If the "primordial soup" theory of abiogenesis is to be believed, self-reproducing organisms spontaneously arose on Earth at least 3.5 billion years ago, surprisingly soon after the Earth cooled down enough to potentially harbor life.
It may never have happened again, however, since all lifeforms on Earth today are similar on a molecular level (DNA), suggesting a common origin.
This appears to imply at least one of the following:
- Immediately after the first spontaneous abiogenesis, environmental conditions on Earth changed dramatically, making a repeat impossible.
- The first organisms that arose consumed any subsequent organisms that came into being. This was suggested by Alexander Oparin, but I find it very difficult to believe since it would have to happen everywhere on Earth. Also, most single-celled organisms found today do not consume other organisms, and even where they do that does not usually lead to their complete extinction.
- The common origin theory is in fact false, despite the similarities between organisms, and abiogenesis did occur multiple times in the same way.
- Abiogenesis happened more than once, but only the descendants of one occurrence survived till today.
- Spontaneous abiogenesis never occurred on Earth after all because the conditions never allowed it; instead, a proto-organism arrived on Earth from a planet where the conditions do (Panspermia).
- The standard theory of geological history is wrong (i.e. the Earth was in a "fertile" state for much longer before the eventual origin of life than commonly thought, due to some unknown mechanism causing radiometric dating to give wrong results).
None of these seem likely to me, yet even less likely I find the idea that life arose spontaneously almost immediately (within a few hundred million years, possibly even faster) after the Earth's crust solidified, and never again afterwards.
What are the currently held theories on that matter? Both random speculations and references to relevant publications are welcome.