When I was a biology student in the early 90's, what I learned and read seemed to indicate a gap in theories around the origins of life. There was, of course, no real evidence about how the first self-replicating macromolecules came about, but there were plenty of reasonable theories. One that particularly stuck in my head was Graham Cairns-Smith's idea that replication began with effective competition for space between slow-growing crystal structures, for example.

Once you have something which loosely resembles a cell then, of course, we can invoke our understanding of Darwinian evolution to explain how those early cells differentiated and developed into the diversity of life we see today. But as a student there seemed a paucity of ideas as to how we could have got from macromolecules to cells. This isn't a small step: it requires our macromolecules to be localised, enclosed in a membrane and to begin to work with each other to form basic metabolic chains.

I left academia after a few years of bench work but I was struck again by this question the other day and wondered whether there were any theories or evidence about this transition that had arisen in the meantime? A quick search on Google didn't turn up anything but the same vague platitudes about enclosures of self-replicating RNA, with little explanation of how this might have happened. It also found this question on Biology SE - How did the first self replicating organism come into existence? - but that deals with initial abiogenisis, not early cells.

Are there any more up to date ideas?

EDIT: Clarification was requested. The linked question - and information elsewhere - tend to focus on the broad question of abiogenisis and seek evidence. I'm asking about a very specific step of the process, that between replicating molecules and the first cell-like structures. I am also aware evidence is unlikely, and I'm asking for plausible theory.

Not entirely sure why this isn't clear, or why I'm getting close votes.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you please clarify why the post ` How did the first self replicating organism come into existence?` does not answer your question and esp. what you mean by "initial abiogenisis" and "early cells" and the difference between these notions? $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Remi.b edited as requested $\endgroup$
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 10:30


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