Our June article by Robert Shapiro, "A Simpler Origin for Life," itself has a non-standard origin. In February we posted an advance, extended version of the article on the sciam.com web site, inviting comments and questions from readers.

Readers responded in the comments thread to the blog posting, "Interactive Publishing: A Simpler Origin for Life."

Later, Shapiro answered some of these questions in "Responses from Shapiro."

The version in the June issue of Scientific American is shorter, but also includes figures, some of the questions and answers from the blog and a response from RNA-first researcher, Steven A. Benner of the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in Gainesville, Fla.

Here is a selection of further reading, including previous coverage in the pages of Scientific American, other web sites, books and research articles:

Previous SciAm Coverage

Synthetic Self-Replicating Molecules, by Julius Rebek, Jr.  July 1994.

The Origin of Life on the Earth, by Leslie E. Orgel.  October 1994.

The Constraints of Chance, by Christian de Duve.  January 1996. (Essay.)

The World According to RNA, by John Horgan.  January 1996. (News story.)

Life's Rocky Start, by Robert M. Hazen.  April 2001.

The Ice of Life, by David F. Blake and Peter Jenniskens.  August 2001.

Web Pages

Robert Shapiro home page.

Robert Shapiro page at NYU.

Definitions of Life, By Carl Sagan. Encyclopedia Britannica.

From soup to cells—the origin of life.  At the Understanding Evolution site of the University of California, Berkeley.

Chemical Evolution. Epoch 5 of the Cosmic Evolution pages of the Wright Center for Science Education at Tufts University.

Origins of Life. Goal 3 of NASA's astrobiology roadmap.

The International Astrobiology Society. Formerly the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life.

The Gene Emergence Project. Offers a $1 million prize "for proposing a highly plausible mechanism for the spontaneous rise of genetic instructions in nature sufficient to give rise to life".

The Beginnings of Life on Earth, by Christian de Duve.  American Scientist, Sept-Oct 1995.


Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, by Robert Shapiro. Summit (Simon & Schuster), 1986.

Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative, by Christian de Duve. Basic Books, 1995.

At Home in the Universe: The Search for Laws of Self-organization and Complexity, by Stuart Kauffman. Oxford University Press, 1995.

Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life Beyond Earth, by Robert Shapiro. Wiley, 1999. "This contains much about the origin of life and my thinking that led to the current article."

The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life, by Paul Davies. Simon and Schuster, 1999.

The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview, by Iris Fry. Rutgers University Press, 2000.

Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origin, by Robert M. Hazen. Joseph Henry Press (imprint of National Academies Press), 2005.

Singularities: Landmarks on the Pathways of Life. Christian de Duve. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Research Articles

Prebiotic Cytosine Synthesis: A Critical Analysis. Implications for the Origin of Life. Robert Shapiro in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Vol. 96, pages 4396–4401, April 1999.

A Theory of Biochemical Organization, Metabolic Pathways and Evolution. Harold J. Morowitz in Complexity, Volume 4, Number 6, pages 39–52, 1999.

Prebiotic Chemistry and the Origin of the RNA World. Leslie E. Orgel in Critical Reviews in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Vol. 39, pages 99–123, 2004.

Evolutionary Potential and Requirements for Minimal Protocells. E. Szathmry, M. Santos and C. Fernando in Prebiotic Chemistry (Topics in Current Chemistry, Vol. 259), pages 167–211. Springer, 2005. (DOI 10.1007/tcc001.)

Progress Toward Understanding the Origin of the RNA World. Gerald F. Joyce and Leslie E. Orgel in The RNA World, Third Edition, pages 23–56. Raymond F. Gesteland, Thomas R. Cech and John F. Atkins, editors. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2006.

Small Molecule Interactions Were Central to the Origin of Life. Robert Shapiro in Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 81, pages 105–125, June 2006.

From Volcanic Origins of Chemoautotrophic Life to Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya. Günter Wchtershäuser in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B, Vol. 361, pages 1787–1808, October 29, 2006.