Towards an evolutionary theory of the origin of life based on kinetics and thermodynamics

Robert Pascal, Addy Pross, John D. Sutherland

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107 Scopus citations


A sudden transition in a system from an inanimate state to the living state- defined on the basis of present day living ganisms-would constitute a highly unlikely event hardly predictable from physical laws. From this uncontroversial idea, a self-consistent representation of the origin of life process is built up, which is based on the possibility of a series of intermediate stages. This approach requires a particular kind of stability for these stages-dynamic kinetic stability (DKS)-which is not usually observed in regular chemistry, and which is reflected in the persistence of entities capable of self-reproduction. The necessary connection of this kinetic behaviour with far-from-equilibrium thermodynamic conditions is emphasized and this leads to an evolutionary view for the origin of life in which multiplying entities must be associated with the dissipation of free energy. Any kind of entity involved in this process has to pay the energetic cost of irreversibility, but, by doing so, the contingent emergence of new functions is made feasible. The consequences of these views on the studies of processes by which life can emerge are inferred.

Original languageEnglish
Article number130156
JournalOpen Biology
Issue numberNOV
StatePublished - 6 Nov 2013


  • Abiogenesis
  • Dynamic kinetic stability
  • Irreversibility
  • Metabolism
  • Origin of life
  • Systems chemistry


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