How did life arise on Earth? Where did its building blocks first develop—in the superheated saltwater near deep-sea vents, or within the vast ice sheets covering primordial oceans? Or did life on Earth evolve from carbon-based molecules transported here billions of years ago by comets and asteroids? Reconstructing the key transitional processes between a chemical non-living state and a biological living state has been a long-standing scientific challenge. Solving this mystery would arguably be the most significant breakthrough of our time.
Carnegie scientists have redefined humanity’s understanding of life in the universe: from our cutting-edge investigations of the evolution of communities of simple microbial life forms in Yellowstone National Park’s hot springs to our probes of the molecular machinery responsible for translating genetic material to life-sustaining proteins—and from our pioneering observations of exoplanets to our partnerships with NASA on missions to Mercury and Mars.
In recent decades, biologists and physical scientists have built and harnessed new tools and concepts that allow us to robustly address seminal scientific questions about the origins of life on Earth, including how the biosphere, geosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere co-evolved. The answers to these questions have implications for the core biology of our own species, and to the ability of life in general to adapt to a changing planet, while also fueling our exploration of the potential for life on other planets.