General information

Module title What Is Life And Where Did It Come From?
Language EN
Module lecturer dr Maciej Szymański
Lecturer's email
Lecturer position adiunkt
Faculty Faculty of Biology
Semester 2021/2022 (summer)
Duration 30
USOS code xxx


Module aim (aims)

The problem of the origins of life is one of the greatest and most difficult questions of science. The efforts to solve the problem were initiated almost 100 by Oparin and Haldane who postulated that the increase of complexity of the prebiotic organic matter eventually gave rise to living cells. Currently, there are many, often conflicting, views on the nature of the processes that led from simple molecules to complex self-replicating systems and further to first autonomous primitive cells.
The aim of the course is to present an overview of various scientific problems related to the question of abiogenesis including the definition of life itself, conditions for life's origin, prebiotic synthesis of biological macromolecules, early evolution of chemical complexity, origins of metabolism and genetic systems and origins of self-replicating systems. These topics will be also discussed in the context of search for extraterrestrial life and efforts to create artificial life.
The comprehension of these topics, often crossing boundaries of scientific disciplines is essential for understanding various hypotheses presenting different scenarios accounting for various steps in the process of abiogenesis.

Pre-requisites in terms of knowledge, skills and social competences (where relevant)

Basic understanding of biology


Week 1: What is life? Troubles with the definition of life

Week 2: Historical perspective of the views on the origin of life from antiquity to modern times

Week 3: Life as we know it - properties of living matter on Earth

Week 4: The beginning - from the origin of the Universe to the young Earth

Week 5: Origins of life - the timeline

Week 6: Chemistry of life

Week 7: Setting the stage - conditions for the origin of the life on Earth

Week 8: Origins of life: metabolism first or genetics first controversy, chemical and biological evolution

Week 9: Oparin/Haldane hypothesis and prebiotic synthesis of biological molecules

Week 10: Wachtershauser’s Iron-Sulfur World

Week 11: Hydrothermal vents in the origin of life

Week 12: Origin of self-replicating molecules

Week 13: Origin of cells

Reading list

Paul Nurse, What is Life?: Five Great Ideas in Biology, WW Norton, New York, 2021

Andy Pross, What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology, Oxford University Press, 2012

Pier Luigi Luisi, The Emergence of Life: From Chemical Origins to Synthetic Biology, Cambridge University Press, 2016