In Assembling Life, David Deamer addresses questions that are the cutting edge of research on the origin of life. For instance, how did non-living organic compounds assemble into the first forms of primitive cellular life? What was the source of those compounds and the energy that produced the first nucleic acids? Did life begin in the ocean or in fresh water on terrestrial land masses? Could life have begun on Mars?
The book provides an overview of conditions on the early Earth four billion years ago and explains why fresh water hot springs are a plausible alternative to salty seawater as a site where life can begin. Deamer describes his studies of organic compounds that were likely to be available in the prebiotic environment and the volcanic conditions that can drive chemical evolution toward the origin of life. Assembling Life is not exclusively Earth-centric, but instead considers whether life could begin elsewhere in our solar system. Deamer does not propose how life did begin, because we can never know that with certainty. Instead, his goal is to understand how life can begin on any habitable planet, with Earth so far being the only known example.
Introduction: A brief history of the early Earth and its origin in the solar nebula 4.6 billion years ago
Chapter 1: The early Earth: An ocean with volcanoes
Chapter 2: Geochemical and geophysical constraints on life's origin
Chapter 3: Hydrothermal conditions are conducive for the origin of life
Chapter 4: Sources of organic compounds required for primitive life
Chapter 5: Self-assembly processes are essential for life's origin
Chapter 6: Condensation reactions synthesize random polymers
Chapter 7; Bioenergetics and primitive metabolic pathways
Chapter 8: Testing alternative hypotheses: Simulating the prebiotic environment
Chapter 9: The Big Picture: Integrating chemistry, geology and life's origin
Chapter 10: Falsifying the hypothesis: A critique
Chapter 11: Where to next? Unresolved questions
Chapter 12: Prospects for life on other planets
David W. Deamer is Research Professor of Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His current research focuses on how DNA and RNA emerged on the early Earth before life began. Deamer was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1986 and served as the President of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life from 2011- 2014.