International Journal of Astrobiology

On the applicability of Darwinian principles to chemical evolution that led to life

Randall S. Perry a1c1 and Vera M. Kolb a2c1
a1 Department of Earth and Space Sciences, Astrobiology Center for Early Evolution, Box 351310, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-1310, USA e-mail:
a2 Department of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Kenosha, WI 53141-2000, USA e-mail:

Article author query
perry r   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
kolb v   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Chemical evolution at the primitive prebiotic level may have proceeded toward increased diversity and complexity by the adjacent possible process (originally proposed by Kauffman). Once primitive self-replicating systems evolved, they could continue evolution via Eigen's hypercycles, and by Prigogine's emergence of order at the far-from-the equilibrium, non-linear systems. We envisage a gradual transition from a complex pre-life system, which we call the transition zone. In this zone we find a mixture of complex chemical cycles that reproduce and secure energy. Small incremental changes in the structure and organization of the transition zone eventually lead to life. However, the chemical systems in this zone may or may not lead to life. It is possible that the transition to life might be the result of an algorithm. But, it is uncertain whether an algorithm could be applied to the systems in which chance plays a role.

(Published Online August 5 2004)
(Received November 26 2003)
(Accepted March 24 2004)

Key Words: algorithm for evolution; chemical selectivity; Darwinian evolution; origin of life; prebiotic evolution; transition zone.

c1 Randall S. Perry; or Vera M. Kolb, Phone: 262-595-2133. Fax: 262-595-2056.