New Theory of Life’s Multiple Origins

Eye Close Up

Researchers propose the need for a new way of thinking or conceptual framework in order to fully understand and appreciate the diversity of life forms that exist.

The history of life on Earth has often been likened to a four-billion-year-old torch relay. One flame, lit at the beginning of the chain, continues to pass on life in the same form all the way down. But what if life is better understood on the analogy of the eye, a convergent organ that evolved from independent origins? What if life evolved not just once, but multiple times independently?

In a new paper, published in the Journal of Molecular Evolution, Santa Fe Institute researchers Chris Kempes and David Krakauer argue that in order to recognize life’s full range of forms, we must develop a new theoretical frame.

In their three-layered frame, Kempes and Krakauer call for researchers to consider, first, the full space of materials in which life could be possible; second, the constraints that limit the universe of possible life; and, third, the optimization processes that drive adaptation. In general, the framework considers life as adaptive information and adopts the analogy of computation to capture the processes central to life.

Life Eye Illustration

What if life is better understood on the analogy of the eye, a convergent organ that evolved from independent origins?

Several significant possibilities emerge when we consider life within the new framework. First, life originates multiple times — some apparent adaptations are actually “a new form of life, not just an adaptation,” explains Krakauer — and it takes a far broader range of forms than conventional definitions allow.

Culture, computation, and forests are all forms of life in this frame. As Kempes explains, “Human culture lives on the material of minds, much like multicellular organisms live on the material of single-celled organisms.”

When researchers focus on the life traits of single organisms, they often neglect the extent to which organisms’ lives depend upon entire ecosystems as their fundamental material, and also ignore the ways that a life system may be more or less living. Within the Kempes-Krakauer framework, by contrast, another implication appears: life becomes a continuum rather than a binary phenomenon. In this vein, the authors point to a variety of recent efforts that quantitatively place life on a spectrum.

By taking a broader view of life’s principles, Kempes and Krakauer hope to generate more fertile theories for studying life. With clearer principles for finding life forms, and a new range of possible life forms that emerges from new principles, we’ll not only clarify what life is, explains Krakauer, we’ll also be better equipped “to build devices to find life,” to create it in labs, and to recognize to what degree the life we see is living.

Reference: “The Multiple Paths to Multiple Life” by Christopher P. Kempes and David C. Krakauer, 12 July 2021, Journal of Molecular Evolution.
DOI: 10.1007/s00239-021-10016-2

9 Comments on "New Theory of Life’s Multiple Origins"

  1. Since all our biological actions point to bacterial origins, I suggest one look among the biome for answers.

  2. The correct word would be “coccus”

  3. It’s not really that new of a theory. The patterns of life reflect life continuously, as we can observe from examples like the golden ratio. The expansionistic pattern of the big bang is one of those patterns. Also, the mere fact the eye looks near identical to a black hole/supernova, has always seemed more than a coincidence to me.

  4. Lets stop clutching at ridiculously impossible straws and admit we have been designed and made complete. That is where the science points unless one is ideologically driven and is blinded to th obvious.

  5. God has said in the Quran:

    🔵 { O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous – ( 2:21 )

    🔴 [He] who made for you the earth a bed [spread out] and the sky a ceiling and sent down from the sky, rain and brought forth thereby fruits as provision for you. So do not attribute to Allah equals while you know [that there is nothing similar to Him]. ( 2:22 )

    🔵 And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah, if you should be truthful. ( 2:23 )

    🔴 But if you do not – and you will never be able to – then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers.( 2:24 )

    🔵 And give good tidings to those who believe and do righteous deeds that they will have gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow. Whenever they are provided with a provision of fruit therefrom, they will say, “This is what we were provided with before.” And it is given to them in likeness. And they will have therein purified spouses, and they will abide therein eternally. ( 2:25 )


  6. Torbjörn Larsson | September 4, 2021 at 9:56 am | Reply

    The model seems unlikely since the example we have of a biosphere evolved from a universal common ancestor [ ].

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