The driving force for life's emergence: Kinetic and thermodynamic considerations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


The principles that govern the emergence of life from non-life remain a subject of intense debate. The evolutionary paradigm built up over the last 50 years, that argues that the evolutionary driving force is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, continues to be promoted by some, while severely criticized by others. If the thermodynamic drive toward ever-increasing entropy is not what drives the evolutionary process, then what does? In this paper, we analyse this long-standing question by building on Eigen's "replication first" model for life's emergence, and propose an alternative theoretical framework for understanding life's evolutionary driving force. Its essence is that life is a kinetic phenomenon that derives from the kinetic consequences of autocatalysis operating on specific biopolymeric systems, and this is demonstrably true at all stages of life's evolution - from primal to advanced life forms. Life's unique characteristics - its complexity, energy-gathering metabolic systems, teleonomic character, as well as its abundance and diversity, derive directly from the proposition that from a chemical perspective the replication reaction is an extreme expression of kinetic control, one in which thermodynamic requirements have evolved to play a supporting, rather than a directing, role. The analysis leads us to propose a new sub-division within chemistry - replicative chemistry. A striking consequence of this kinetic approach is that Darwin's principle of natural selection: that living things replicate, and therefore evolve, may be phrased more generally: that certain replicating things can evolve, and may therefore become living. This more general formulation appears to provide a simple conceptual link between animate and inanimate matter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-406
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


Dive into the research topics of 'The driving force for life's emergence: Kinetic and thermodynamic considerations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this