I grew up in a family of carpenters, musicians, bakers and scientists. And it is not by chance that I chose chemistry and in particular organic chemistry as the tread of my life. I have a clear moment in my mind: when I was a kid of 8 or 9 years old, a new book appeared on the bookshelves of our house: “The rise of Life, the first 3.5 billion years” by John Reader and illustrated by John Gurche (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group). This book fascinated me. It was extremely detailed, and each chapter was accompanied with fancy and detailed drawings. Drawings represented the evolution of the planet Earth. Drawings represented the intersection between molecules, from the atom to the complexity of DNA. Drawings represented the evolution of cells from LUCA (last universal common ancestor) to bacteria or eukaryotes. The text was simple but extremely effective. One of the first chapters concerned the chemistry before life: prebiotic chemistry. This was probably my love at first sight for chemistry. Only many years later I came back to my interest in the origin of life, when as associate professor at the University of Lyon, I had the opportunity to start working on prebiotic systems chemistry and more in detail on the prebiotic chemistry of lipids.
The idea of this book is not mine. It is the idea of some students I trained during the last few years who showed an increasing interest in this side of science. When they asked to learn more, I told them that there were many books concerning prebiotic chemistry and many others on life's origin but not a unique one. “Why don't you do this?” they asked many times. And here we are. I've done this work thanks to the collaboration of colleagues and friends. I think that the need of students is in agreement with that of the German biologist Carl Richard Woese. He wrote “Biology today is no more fully understood in principle than physics was a century or so ago. In both cases the guiding vision has (or had) reached its end, and in both, a new, deeper, more invigorating representation of reality is (or was) called for.” Woese emphasized the urgency of conducting in-depth studies in search of what in the early days of the formation of the universe and then of our planet, gave rise to what is called life. But the concept of this book instead came from the words of French Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Lehn, highlighted in a conference that took place in Grenoble (FR) “Life can emerge where physics and chemistry intersect” showing a bridge that connected inanimate matter to animate matter. In my opinion, the study of the origin of life intersects not only organic and inorganic chemistry but also biology, astrophysics, geochemistry, geophysics, planetology, earth science, bioinformatics, complexity theory, mathematics, and philosophy. This book is written chapter after chapter by a roster of selected scientists. Each one specialized their knowledge during a long-lasting career. In each chapter, the reader will not find an encyclopedic summary of the latest discoveries on origin of life studies. Each chapter is written with criticism, to give the clearest possible insight into the state of the art of the intersection between many aspects of science and how they can be the best tool to understand how life emerged under prebiotic conditions. This intersection gave birth to more and more complex molecules that formed, without the participation of enzymes, to that machinery in which a systemic memory (genetic information) and a metabolic system (proteins) encapsulated in a lipid envelope formed the cell, the simplest expression of life. My hope is that students, of any age, can profit from the efforts made to produce this book and understand how prebiotic chemistry studies are of crucial interest to understand the emergence of life from a soup of inanimate matter.