The study of life’s origins on Earth is age-old, from ancient philosophers to contemporary scientists, and there are few modern scientific disciplines that haven’t tackled the problem. Modern research can be broadly summarized by a bottom-up, planet-first perspective, in which environment-based approaches seek to explore untargeted synthesis reactions in early Earth systems. The alternative top-down approach starts with modern biochemistry and attempts to synthesize its most primitive components. These approaches have spawned the divergent theories for life’s origins that are broadly described by the “genetics first” and “metabolism first” schools of thought. Thus far, neither scenario-driven approach has yielded a robust prebiotic pathway under realistic early Earth conditions. Refreshingly, the last decade has witnessed a realization of the need for studies of prebiotic chemistry and early Earth environments to not only collide, but to synergize. Nonetheless, what remains elusive, even with newfound appreciation for the importance of environmental conditions, is a synergistic view of a prebiotic pathway co-evolving with the planetary system. Our highly interdisciplinary team seeks to shift the paradigm for origins of life research. The guiding principle of our research enterprise is the inevitable co-evolution of early Earth and prebiotic chemistry, and addresses a single, compelling question: “Which early Earth environments hosted the prebiotic chemistry that led to life’s emergence?”
The Earth First Origins Research Initiative is supported through an award from the NASA Astrobiology Program and is the signature project of the RARE Center at RPI. The Earth First Origins Research Initiative and Team are part of NASA’s Prebiotic Chemistry and Early Earth Environments (PCE3) Consortium, one of five Research Coordination Networks within the Astrobiology Program. The PCE3 Consortium is focused on investigating the synthesis of small molecules under the conditions of the Early Earth, and the subsequent formation of proto-biological molecules and pathways that lead to systems harboring the potential for life.