CHAPTER 5: Soft Matter Science in Prebiotic Chemistry and the Origins of Life
Published:29 Jun 2022
Prebiotic chemistry often focuses on the presumed re-construction of biomolecules, biopolymers, and subsequent assemblies, which are common to contemporary biological cells. Considerable effort is given to building such molecules within some sort of cellular (or rather proto-cellular) environment to provide a molecular context to explain the Origins of Life (OoL). While this is indeed logical, it can overlook the fact that prebiotic chemistry produces much chemistry that may have limited relevance to the emergence of biological organisms. Recently, prebiotic chemists have sharpened their focus on behaviours of chemical compounds that may have played a potentially valuable role in pre-biology, but which do not necessarily involve specific molecules that are used by contemporary biochemistry. The view is that some primitive systems, unlike those we can infer from present-day life, may have played a role in the development of living systems, or perhaps have acted to scaffold primitive living systems towards biological life-as-we-know-it. In this review, we will start by summarising some of the inherent problems in prebiotic chemistry which result from adopting a contemporary biology-centric approach, provide a brief overview of non-biological chemistry published to date in relation to abiogenesis, and emphasise how soft-matter science may have a potential role in OoL studies.