Now, I'm usually not one to pit the sciences against each other...but something new has recently come to light. Many of us have believed that it was a fluke of biology that life came into existence, but biophysicist Jeremy England, and those who have studied his work, argue that another branch of science might just be responsible: physics.
Boiled down as succinctly as possible. Dr. England posits that the inevitable outcome of thermodynamics was the creation of life.
Diving in a bit deeper, this can be understood if we take everything back to the atom. Groups of atoms will naturally restructure themselves in order to burn more and more energy. This burn facilitates the "incessant dispersal of energy and rise of entropy or disorder in the universe." According to Dr. England, this constant and growing restructuring effect will eventually foster the growth of more and more complex structures, including life.
Dr. England has been working on proving and further detailing this theory since 2013. Earlier this summer, he had two very important publications in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" and "Physical Review Letters". These publications bring to light some of the most persuasive evidence for his theory that has existed to date.
However, these findings do not yet solidify Dr. England's story, in fact this theory is quite controversial within the scholarly landscape.
Dr. Eugene Shakhnovich, a former professor of Dr. England's acknowledges England's intellect and capability in the field, but disagrees. Dr. Shakhnovich goes as far as saying that Dr. England's linkages to his work in the lab and the theory of life are “pure and shameless speculations.” He, instead, says that Dr. England's work shows us something concrete...but not necessarily how life evolved. "What Jeremy is showing is that as long as you can harvest energy from your environment, order will spontaneously arise and self-tune.” But, perhaps this order was a necessary step to the creation of life.
Dr. Sara Walker, a theoretical physicst who is also an "origins of life" specialist further poked at Dr. England's theory saying, that life is more distinguished and “requires some explicit notion of information that takes it beyond the non-equilibrium dissipative structures-type process.” For example, Dr. Walker says that the ability to respond to information is an integral part of life: “We need chemical reaction networks that can get up and walk away from the environment where they originated.”
In light of this criticism, according to Wired.com, it appears that Dr. England is wary of conclusions being jumped to. Dr. England says in regards to his recent findings that “In the short term, I’m not saying this tells me a lot about what’s going in a biological system, nor even claiming that this is necessarily telling us where life as we know it came from.”
But notice that he says "in the short term", which seems to suggest with further research he might just be able to prove his theory after-all.
The above image is liscensed under creative commons 2.0 and comes from Flickr user Feline DaCat.