David Deamer Explores Life’s Origins at Google

First LifeLast week, UC Press author David Deamer spoke about his book First Life: Discovering the Connections between Stars, Cells, and How Life Began as part of Google’s forum for authors, Authors@Google. Deamer is a Research Professor in the Department of Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

First Life explores how life can begin, taking us from cosmic clouds of stardust, to volcanoes on Earth, to the modern chemistry laboratory. Deamer introduces astrobiology, a new scientific discipline that studies the origin and evolution of life on Earth. Here’s more about the talk, in the author’s own words:

“In Mary Shelley’s classic tale, Dr. Victor Frankenstein assembled a human body from parts retrieved from cadavers. The novel, published nearly two hundred years ago, raised questions that we would now consider to fall within the realm of bioethics. If Dr. Frankenstein wanted to carry out his experiment today he would need to bring it to the attention of the IRB (Institutional Review Board) at his university who would doubtless reject it.

And yet, a number of laboratories around the world are attempting to perform a reconstitution of life eerily similar to Frankenstein’s dream, to fabricate something alive from a parts list, but on a microscopic scale. There is even a name for such science: synthetic biology. Steven Jay Gould once commented that evolutionary history is like a tape recording, and if we played it again the result would likely be very different. That is probably true for the complexities of evolution, but there may have been only one way for life to originate within the laws of chemistry and physics.

In my talk I will briefly trace the history of attempts to fabricate artificial cells that increasingly are approaching the definition of living organisms. These efforts have not yet succeeded, but there is reason to believe that the goal may be achieved in the next decade. The point is that as we attempt to assemble synthetic life, we are retracing some of the steps that led to the origin of life and perhaps will be able to play the tape again.”

Watch the talk below, or on the Authors@Google Youtube Channel.

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