Readers may recall Edward Trifonov’s new, brief definition of life (after studying 123 previous ones):
Life is self-reproduction with variations.
He offers some further thoughts in “What Is Life?” (The Scientist, February 16, 2012):
The border between life and nonlife may, actually, be placed anywhere within the realm of the abiotic processes. Oligonucleotides, oligopeptides, nucleobases, amino acids, sugars—all could be considered as very primitive and simplistic life forms, if the definition is extended (and simplified) to the very elements. Before 1828, when organic substances could be found only within living matter, the popular idea of a “vital force” reigned. In those days, one could draw the life/nonlife border at the first appearance of the small “vital force” (i.e., organic) molecules. Abiotic synthesis of urea by Friedrich Wöhler in 1828 dethroned this common belief.
The hypothetical primitive RNA replication process has a degree of sophistication that separates it from mere chemistry: it copies itself and allows copying mistakes, which themselves are copied in future generations. In other words, this is the process of self-reproduction with variations (as in Spiegelman’s system), not just organic synthesis.
Trifonov lost some of us at “hypothetical primitive RNA replication process.” If it’s hypothetical, it is neither life nor not-life; it is an abstract idea that may or may not have a counterpart in nature
.In any event, thoughts?