The Electrical Origins of Life – NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering (University of Basel & ETH Zurich)

NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering (University of Basel & ETH Zurich)



We will never know for certain how life started on Earth, but we can build a testable framework that shows how a sterile, inorganic planet could spring to life.

In this talk I will use life as a guide to its own origins. Modern cells use electrical charges on membranes to drive their metabolism, which in turn makes the building blocks of genes and proteins. I will show that equivalent processes were possible in ancient hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean. Electrical charges on mineral barriers can drive the reaction of gases such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide to power a spontaneous proto-metabolism, and ultimately the emergence of genetic information. The genetic code conceals enigmatic patterns that suggest there were once direct interactions between amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, and the first genes. I will end with some thoughts on how these processes might culminate in cells developing agency and a rudimentary stream of consciousness.