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NSF RCN For Exploration of Life's Origins (2017–2022)


Origins of life is a topic that has captured the attention of scientists from a diverse set of fields for nearly a century. It represents one of the most interdisciplinary scientific communities, spanning basic physics and chemistry, geochemistry, planetary sciences, biochemistry, evolutionary theory, and paleobiology. Furthermore, forward progress in addressing the underlying question requires not just that these fields participate, but that there are deep and meaningful exchanges of pertinent facts, concepts, and perspectives. In the past 50 years many distinct possibilities for the emergence and propagation of life have been put forward. While these proposals have been enlightening, they have also sparked deep debates, and there is a continuing need for the community to engage in constructive discourse across disciplinary boundaries.

We are also at a unique point in the biological, chemical, and geophysical sciences where many high-throughput methods, massive computational power, and exceptional instrument sensitivity are allowing us to explore large spaces of possibilities with ever-higher resolution and precision. These new techniques not only hold promise for elucidating the complex world of modern biological physiology, but are also searching the large space of possibilities for the origins of life, disentangling feasibility, and testing specific hypotheses. Yet at the same time a wide variety of scientists whose expertise and interests could greatly inform our understanding of origins of life do not participate in the field or recognize their connections to the topic.

The NSF RCN for Exploration of Life's Origins seeks to find greater synthesis amongst existing perspectives on the origins of life, identify and summarize the current frontier of the field, inspire new scientific collaborations, and to translate findings from origins of life research to the rest of the biological sciences.