Crystals, colloids, or molecules? Early controversies about the origin of life and synthetic life

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8 Scopus citations


Crystals, colloids, and (macro-)molecules have played major roles in theoretical concepts and experimental approaches concerning the generation of life from the mid-19th century on.The notion of the crystallization of life out of a nonliving fluid, a special case of the doctrine of spontaneous generation, was most prominently incorporated into Schleiden's and Schwann's version of cell theory. Refutation at the end of the 19th century of spontaneous generation of life and cells, in particular by Pasteur, Remak, and Virchow, not only gave rise to the flourishing fields of microbiology and cytology, but it also opened up research on synthetic life. These approaches focused on growth and form and colloidal chemistry on the one hand, and on the specificity of organisms' macromolecules and chemical reactions on the other. This article analyzes the contribution of these approaches to synthetic life research and argues that researchers' philosophical predilections and basic beliefs have played important roles in the choice of experimental and theoretical approaches towards synthetic life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-542
Number of pages22
JournalPerspectives in Biology and Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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