Seeing Life as a Spectrum could Help us Seek it outside Earth, Two Scientists Claim

Most studies on the origin of life on Earth estimate a single starting event about four billion years ago. There is controversy over the form and location of the origin of life – but what if life evolved several times, resulting in diversity around us? A study published in the Journal of Molecular Evolution raises this possibility, with some implications that the concept may not be taken seriously. Chris Kempes, a professor at the Santa Fe Institute, and David Crawford, a professor, think that we need to consider what life and its origins really mean.

This question has already been touched upon in discussions about whether things like viruses and prions are actually alive, but Kempes and Krakauer want to see it in more detail. The authors argue that most scientists have focused too much on individual organisms, ignoring the ecosystems that it depends on. However, if a virus is not considered alive because it cannot control it without a cell, what about other organisms that cannot survive without conditions that support them, such as compulsive parasites?

Perhaps, as Kempes and Krakow suggest, our life / non-life should be viewed as a spectrum rather than a binary division. Krakauer said in a statement, within this framework, some can be seen as development; “A new form of life, not just an adaptation.” Campus added; “Human culture lives in the elements of the mind, just as multicellular organisms live in the elements of unicellular organisms.” On this basis, complex ecosystems such as forests or coral reefs can be seen as new forms of life rather than ways of organizing existing life.

“Like all data-processing systems, adaptive systems have a nested classification of layers, a level of function optimization (e.g., fitness maximization), a level of limitation (e.g., energy requirements), and a level of material (e.g., DNA or RNA genes),” The paper notes.

Even when it comes to a more traditional theological definition of life, the authors point to an earlier paper that they say is “credibly” proposed; “There can be many paths from a biological to a biological world with different potential constraints, expressions and branch points.” This is in contrast to a traditional theological view of life that resembles fire, a single ignition point that was given, potentially spreads and dies but never goes out completely.