A New Thermodynamics Theory of the Origin of Life | Quanta Magazine

Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, thinks he has found the underlying physics driving the origin and evolution of life.

Hypothesis annotations

A New Physics Theory of Life | Quanta Magazine

Annotations by Chris Aldrich:

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat.

Chris Jarzynski, now at the University of Maryland, and Gavin Crooks, now at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Jarzynski and Crooks showed that the entropy produced by a thermodynamic process, such as the cooling of a cup of coffee, corresponds to a simple ratio: the probability that the atoms will undergo that process divided by their probability of undergoing the reverse process (that is, spontaneously interacting in such a way that the coffee warms up). As entropy production increases, so does this ratio: A system’s behavior becomes more and more “irreversible.”

in a paper appearing online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Michael Brenner, a professor of applied mathematics and physics at Harvard, and his collaborators present theoretical models and simulations of microstructures that self-replicate.

the underlying principle driving the whole process is dissipation-driven adaptation of matter.

In a September paper in the Journal of Chemical Physics, he reported the theoretical minimum amount of dissipation that can occur during the self-replication of RNA molecules and bacterial cells, and showed that it is very close to the actual amounts these systems dissipate when replicating.

Ilya Prigogine, “Introduction to Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes”, John Wiley Sons Inc., 1968




“Thermodynamic Dissipation Theory for the Origin of Life” (arXiv:0907.0042[physics.gen-ph]2009; Earth Syst. Dynam., 2, 37–51, 2011)

Brooks and Wiley, Evolution as Entropy, U Chicago Press (1986, 2nd edition 1988)

Get a copy to read through.


2009, K. Michaelian, arXiv:0907.0042 [physics.gen-ph] http://arxiv.org/abs/0907.0042 and again in 2011, K. Michaelian Earth Syst. Dynam., 2, 37–51, 2011 www.earth-syst-dynam.net/2/37/2011/doi:10.5194/esd-2-37-2011

If England’s approach stands up to more testing, it could further liberate biologists from seeking a Darwinian explanation for every adaptation and allow them to think more generally in terms of dissipation-driven organization. They might find, for example, that “the reason that an organism shows characteristic X rather than Y may not be because X is more fit than Y, but because physical constraints make it easier for X to evolve than for Y to evolve,”

Philip Marcus of the University of California, Berkeley, and reported in Physical Review Letters