Research Award Offered to Find Origin of Life

Research Award Offered to Find Origin of Life

Researchers wanting to focus on the origin-of-life question now have the opportunity to compete for up to $2 million in research funding. But there is a twist: proposals must not include the intervention of an intelligent creator. For Harry Lonsdale, the millionaire chemist offering the award, the research should help prove — once and for all — that life is solely the result of physical and chemical processes.

According to AAAS’s Scienceinsider, the award is driven by Lonsdale’s belief that “the creation of life was probably not an act of God. It was just nature running its course.” Lonsdale argues that science has achieved progress toward answering this question and that an answer will soon be available: “The answer will be: God didn’t do it, nature did it.”

Lonsdale’s website announcing the award details strict guidelines for proposals to consider the question of how life originated on prebiotic Earth, encouraging participants to “offer unconventional hypotheses that nonetheless can be subject to experimental validation.” This includes a definition of life itself: “‘Life’ is defined here as a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution.”

Including a definition is a surprise in itself. NASA’s Astrobiology program, which adopts an interdisciplinary research approach to consider many of these questions in its quest for life elsewhere, is careful not to provide a definition of life. With discoveries such as extreme life questioning old assumptions about what life is supposed to be, researchers may not want to exclude extraordinary, yet scientifically sound, propositions. Still, there may be a synergy between the two initiatives as one of the experts helping evaluating submissions, according to ScienceInsider, is NASA Astrobiologist Chris McKay.

Lonsdale states on his website that “A solution will give every science teacher in the world, from high school to college, a fundamental understanding of how life probably began on the Earth.” It may be safe to add that new findings may also impact NASA activities and our understanding of where life may exist beyond our own planet.

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