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History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences - Vol. 34, no. 3 (2012)
Article

Raphael Falk and Antonio Lazcano, The Forgotten Dispute: A.I. Oparin and H.J. Muller on the Origin of Life


Abstract

The debate between A.I. Oparinís heterotrophic proposal of the origin of life and H.J. Mullerís suggestion that what may be considered a posteriori the beginning of life, was an autocatalytic, replicative gene, is analyzed. Although both recognized that what was needed was an interacting system contiguous in space and time, it is now rarely mentioned that this scientific confrontation went on for several decades against the background of intense ideological issues, political tensions, and scientific developments that include the rise and demise of Lysenkoism, on the one hand, and, on the other, the establishment of neoDarwinism and the birth of molecular biology. Whereas for Oparin life was the outcome of the step-wise slow process of precellular evolution in which membrane-bounded polymolecular systems played a key role, Muller argued that life started with the appearance of the first nucleic-acid (DNA) molecule in the primitive oceans. Oparin and Muller came from different scientific backgrounds and almost opposite intellectual traditions, so their common interest in the origin of life did nothing to assuage their opposing views, which as argued soon became part of the debates that took place within the framework of intense ideological confrontations.


Keywords

neoDarwinism, heterotrophic origin of life, life as autocatalytic replicative genes, primordial DNA, coacervates, prebiotic evolution


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