According to a paywalled review in New York Review of Books:
Today, driven by ongoing technological innovations, the exploration of the “nanoverse,” as the realm of the minuscule is often termed, continues to gather pace. One of the field’s greatest pioneers is Paul Falkowski, a biological oceanographer who has spent much of his scientific career working at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and biology. His book Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable focuses on one of the most astonishing discoveries of the twentieth century-that our cells are comprised of a series of highly sophisticated “little engines” or nanomachines that carry out life’s vital functions. It is a work full of surprises, arguing for example that all of life’s most important innovations were in existence by around 3.5 billion years ago-less than a billion years after Earth formed, and a period at which our planet was largely hostile to living things. How such mind-bending complexity could have evolved at such an early stage, and in such a hostile environment, has forced a fundamental reconsideration of the origins of life itself.
Joe Kirschvink argues that Earth’s rocks are the wrong place to look for the
nanomachines’ origins. He is a leading proponent of the seemingly radical theory that the nanomachines, and perhaps life itself, originated on the ice caps and glaciers of ancient Mars. The case is fleshed out fully in A New History of Life, and recent discoveries are building an impressive body of supporting evidence. NASA’s Curiosity lander, for example, has found evidence for ancient Martian streams and ponds: billions of years ago Mars probably had an ocean, as well as land and ice caps. The red planet may have offered a far less hostile environment for assembling naked strings of RNA than Earth. Kirschvink also points out that
space travel by early life is not improbable. Mars is small, so its gravity is weak compared with that of Earth. Asteroids could therefore have thrown up a lot of rocks capable of escaping Martian gravity. And we know, through experiments, that meteorites originating from Mars can reach Earth without being sterilized.
But if the nanomachines did originate on Mars, where might they have crossed the “Darwinian threshold” and become truly living things?
So long as they are thinking in terms of a “Darwinian threshold,” we can more or less forget about them getting anywhere with the topic.
Why origin of life is such a conundrum
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