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Proceedings Paper

Jigsaw model of the origin of life
Author(s): John F. McGowan
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Paper Abstract

It is suggested that life originated in a three-step process referred to as the jigsaw model. RNA, proteins, or similar organic molecules polymerized in a dehydrated carbon-rich environment, on surfaces in a carbon-rich environment, or in another environment where polymerization occurs. These polymers subsequently entered an aqueous environment where they folded into compact structures. It is argued that the folding of randomly generated polymers such as RNA or proteins in water tends to partition the folded polymer into domains with hydrophobic cores and matching shapes to minimize energy. In the aqueous environment hydrolysis or other reactions fragmented the compact structures into two or more matching molecules, occasionally producing simple living systems, also knows as autocatalytic sets of molecules. It is argued that the hydrolysis of folded polymers such as RNA or proteins is not random. The hydrophobic cores of the domains are rarely bisected due to the energy requirements in water. Hydrolysis preferentially fragments the folded polymers into pieces with complementary structures and chemical affinities. Thus the probability of producing a system of matched, interacting molecules in prebiotic chemistry is much higher than usually estimated. Environments where this process may occur are identified. For example, the jigsaw model suggests life may have originated at a seep or carbonaceous fluids beneath the ocean. The polymerization occurred beneath the sea floor. The folding and fragmentation occurred in the ocean. The implications of this hypothesis for seeking life or prebiotic chemistry in the Solar System are explored.

Paper Details

Date Published: 5 February 2002
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 4495, Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology IV, (5 February 2002); doi: 10.1117/12.454759
Show Author Affiliations
John F. McGowan, GFT Group (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 4495:
Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology IV
Richard B. Hoover; Gilbert V. Levin; Roland R. Paepe; Alexei Yu. Rozanov, Editor(s)

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