Non-equilibrium Thermodynamic Foundations of the Origin of Life: Comparison
Please note this is a comparison between versions V2 by Vivi Li and V1 by Karo Michaelian.

There is little doubt that life’s origin followed from the known physical and chemical laws of Nature. The most general scientific framework incorporating the laws of Nature and applicable to most known processes to good approximation, is that of thermodynamics and its extensions to treat out-of-equilibrium phenomena. The event of the origin of life should therefore also be amenable to such an analysis. The Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory of the Origin and Evolution of Life postulates that the first molecules of life (the fundamental molecules) were, at their origin, pigments dissipatively structured through photochemical and chemical reactions on the surface of the oceans from simpler and more common precursor molecules in water under the solar long-wavelength UVC (205–285 nm) light of the Archean. They were “designed” by Nature to carry out this thermodynamic imperative of absorbing light in this UVC region and then to dissipate it into heat (longer wavelength photons) released into the environment. 

  • origin of life
  • disspative structuring
  • prebiotic chemistry
  • abiogenisis
  • non-equilibrium thermodynamics
  • thermodynamic dissipation theory

1. Introduction

Theories concerning the origin of life on Earth began with captivating myths, prevalent in all cultures, describing how the heavens, Earth, and life were created by powerful supernatural beings. The ancient Greeks were the first of the cultures to leave a written history suggesting a materialistic origin, arguing that life evolved out of the essential elements; water, earth, air, and fire. Over the last 2000 years, however, most of humanity has preferred mysticism over materialism and has accepted either the monotheistic Judaeo-Christian-Islamic conception of an omnipotent supernatural being who breathed life into clay models, or to an eternal universe with life of no ultimate origin.
With the European Renaissance beginning in the 15th century came a re-invigoration of the art of inquiry and observation, known as “science”, first championed by the ancient Greeks. Materialistic ideas of the origin of life once again became popular, for example, the re-adoption of the ancient Greek idea that something as developed as a worm, a fly, or a frog could emerge from mud, dirty clothes, or a puddle of dirty water; the idea of “spontaneous generation” which remained prevalent until the middle of the 19th century.
The last 100 years or so, has seen legends, mysticism and spurious creation theories give way to more scientific attempts to explain the origin of life. The new materialistic theories, based on a more profound understanding of physics and chemistry, suggested, for example, the possibility of life emerging from sets of auto-catalytic chemical reactions [1,2][1][2] occurring perhaps in particular nutrient and energy rich environments such as at hydro-thermal vents at the bottom of the ocean [3][3], or in cyclical wetting and drying periods on clay mineral surfaces [4][4].
Even these currently popular, materialistic, and more science based theories for the origin of life, however, lack axiomatic foundations based in physical law and instead settle for describing only the chemical synthesis of as many fundamental molecules of life (common to all three life domains; archea, bacteria, eukaryote) as possible, as efficiently as possible, and from an as limited set of precursor molecules as possible. All such theories, however, share a similar characteristic of their mystical counterparts; they rely on the unsettling premise that Nature found an apparently unique, almost miraculous, chemical reaction set 3.9 billion years ago, endowing these molecules with Darwinian like characteristics of reproduction with small variation and selection based on either efficacy of molecular precursor sequestration or molecular stability. Suffice to say that no such fortuitous chemical reaction set has yet been discovered.
Today, how the fundamental molecules of life could have been synthesized from simpler common precursor molecules, before the existence of the complex bio-synthetic pathways, is considered basically a solved problem in origin of life research. In fact, many different chemical and photochemical routes, under different chemical/physical environments, to the production of these molecules, from what would have been commonly available precursor molecules, have been discovered over the past 70 years of experimentation since the first results of Stanley Miller.
Life, however, is much more than a simple collection of fundamental molecules arranged in a particular pattern. This can be seen most clearly from the fact that a recently dead organism contains all of the molecules and their arrangement of a living organism, but there is an obvious difference between a recently dead animal and one which is alive, displaying a certain spirit or vitality to it. The collection of molecules in the living organism manifests macroscopic dynamical processes such as; mobility, metabolism, homeostasis, replication/proliferation, and the ability to evolve and adapt to different environments. Clearly, there is something more to be explained concerning the origin of life than the mere description of efficient chemical reaction routes to the fundamental molecules.
To many scientists, this vitality was so confounding that it seemed obvious to them that the explanation of life required the discovery of some new law of nature. The eminent physicist Eugene Wigner wrote in the 1970’s [5][5],
... the laws of physics, applicable for inanimate matter, will have to be modified when dealing with the more general situation in which life and consciousness play significant roles.
This problem concerning the vitality of life has been more difficult to solve than the problem of molecular synthesis, however its contemplation is hardly new. Although only in the last few decades have scientists begun to focus on life’s vitality, part of the understanding had already been forged and was being referenced to sporadically, beginning 150 years ago by the same erudite scientist who provided a statistical mechanical foundation for the empirical science of thermodynamics, Ludwig Boltzmann. Reflecting deeply on living systems and the confounding aspects of Darwin’s novel perspective on biological evolution with its “struggle for survival”, Boltzmann in 1886 wrote in an essay [6,7][6][7],
The general struggle for existence of animate beings is not a struggle for raw materials—these, for organisms, are air, water and soil, all abundantly available—nor for energy which exists in plenty in any body in the form of heat, but a struggle for [negative] entropy, which becomes available through the transition of energy from the hot sun to the cold earth.
Boltzmann saw the process of life as a struggle of organisms to obtain and maintain their organization, and his analysis showed that this could only come at the expense of disorganization in the environment. In particular, Boltzmann realized that the organization of material in living organisms is allowed by the disorganization of the energy given off by the Sun and received by Earth. The words “organization” and “disorganization” are used loosely here to refer to the probability distribution of certain conserved quantities of Nature inherent to material; energy, momentum, angular momentum, and charge, over microscopic degrees of freedom of the material. The “microscopic degrees of freedom” refer to ways of storing energy, momentum, angular momentum, and charge at the microscopic level (for example, molecular translation, rotation, and vibration). When these conserved quantities are distributed over fewer degrees of freedom, weresearchers say that the system is “organized” and has low entropy (for example the kinetic energy of a hammer before it hits a piece of metal), and when distributed over many degrees of freedom, weresearchers say the system is “disorganized” and has greater entropy (after the hammer crashes into the metal its kinetic energy of motion is converted into heat—you can actually do the experiment and feel the metal heat up). What weresearchers call the “entropy increase” for this event is a measure of the greater distribution of the initial hammer kinetic energy over many more microscopic degrees of freedom which correspond to the atomic vibrations and electron motions in the metal, and eventually over the microscopic degrees of freedom of the environment, the surrounding air and ground.
Ilya Prigogine, building on the work of Boltzmann and his mentor Lars Onsager, showed that under an imposed general thermodynamic force (for example a temperature gradient, a chemical potential, or a photon flux) the material inside the system could “self-organize” into dissipative structures which are “designed” by Nature to increase the dissipation of the imposed general thermodynamic force. By “dissipation” weresearchers mean the natural tendency of the conserved quantities of Nature; energy, momentum, angular momentum, charge, etc., to be distributed over an ever greater number of microscopic degrees of freedom. Examples of dissipative structures are hurricanes, convection cells, and a set of chemical reactions. A hurricane, for example, is “designed” by nature to spread the greater amount of energy in the hot ocean surface over the cold upper atmosphere, leading to a more equitable distribution of the energy over all the available microscopic degrees of freedom, effectively reducing the temperature gradient between the ocean and atmosphere (referred to as “dissipating the temperature gradient”). These dissipative structures are created under an impressed general thermodynamic force (the temperature gradient in this case) as a result of the thermodynamic imperative of dissipation which derives from the Second Law of Thermodynamics [8] (see Appendix A for a Glossary of Thermodynamic Terms)[8].
It will be shown in this paperentry that the relevant conserved quantity involved in the dissipative structuring at the origin of life is energy, in particular, incident photon energy, and that the relevant microscopic degrees of freedom involved in the dissipation of this energy are molecular and involve electronic excitation, molecular vibration and molecular reconfiguration (e.g., new covalent bonding between the atoms), leading to heat (molecular vibrations giving photon emission at longer wavelengths). These microscopic material degrees of freedom are places where the low entropy incident photon energy is absorbed, redistributed, and then re-emitted as higher entropy radiation to the environment.
The Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory of the Origin and Evolution of Life [9,10,11,12,13,14][9][10][11][12][13][14] postulates that the first molecules of life (the fundamental molecules) were, at their origin, pigments dissipatively structured through photochemical and chemical reactions on the surface of the oceans from simpler and more common precursor molecules in water under the solar long-wavelength UVC (205–285 nm) light of the Archean. They were “designed” by Nature to carry out this thermodynamic imperative of absorbing light in this UVC region and then to dissipate it into heat (longer wavelength photons) released into the environment. This paperentry is dedicated to explain in simple terms how, and why, this happens.
If the thermodynamic dissipation theory for the origin of life proves to be the correct theory, then, given particular, but probably common, environmental conditions on planets of hot K-type, G-type, and hotter stars (having an important UVC component), there will be, in fact, a thermodynamic imperative for an origin of life similar to ourhuman own based on carbon. In this case, the origin of life would not have been a single fortuitous chemical event constrained to perhaps a few “lucky” planets, but rather a thermodynamic imperative and would arise on many, if not most planets, of these types of stars (Figure 1).