“Origin of Life” with Antonio Lazcano (School of Science, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico)

While the discussion of habitability – as we will do in the present series of talks – considers the potential for sustaining life on a planet, it leaves the problem of the Origin of Life open. But without an understanding of how life could have originated on the Earth and potentially on other planets, the search for extraterrestrial life misses an element of fundamental importance that might educate strategies for life detection. Most present theories of the origin of life are based on the heterotrophic proposed by Oparin and Haldane in the 1920’s as part of a Darwinian framework that assumed that living organisms were the historical outcome of a gradual transformation of lifeless matter. The 1953 Miller experiment demonstrated the ease with which organic compounds could be synthesized under putative primitive reducing conditions. During the years following the Miller experiment attempts to understand the origin of life were shaped by the development of molecular biology and by the development of space sciences, including the analysis of cometary nuclei, interstellar material and carbonaceous meteorites, in which a wide variety of organic compounds of biochemical significance have been found. The discovery of catalytically active RNA molecules has provided considerable credibility to suggestions that the first living entities were largely based on ribozymes, in an early stage called the RNA world, but  at the time being the hiatus between the primitive soup and the RNA world is discouragingly enormous.

Antonio Lazcano is a professor at the Faculty of Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico since 2002, where he specializes in Evolutionary biology, in particular the Origin of Life. He is one of the world leading experts in the subject having published more than 150 research papers and 16 books. He served as the president of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life for two terms and as honorary director of the Lynn Margulis Center for Evolutionary Biology in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. He has worked at institutions such as the University of Orsay Paris-Sud, the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the ETH-Zentrum, the University of Habana, the University of California San Diego, the Autonomous University of Madrid and the University of Rome “La Sapienza”.  Throughout his career, Dr. Lazcano has received several awards, among them the National Researcher Level III award by the National Science Council (Mexico), the distinction “University Professor” by the UNAM, and the Medal Guillaume Bude of the College du France, among many other distinctions. Since 2014, Dr. Lazcano has been a member of El Colegio Nacional de Mexico.

Webinar recorded on January 27, 2022