Instituto de Física, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Cto. de la Investigación Científica, Cuidad Universitaria, C.P. 04510, Mexico
Received: 09 Feb 2010 – Discussion started: 04 Mar 2010
Abstract. Understanding the thermodynamic function of life may shed light on its origin. Life, as are all irreversible processes, is contingent on entropy production. Entropy production is a measure of the rate of the tendency of Nature to explore available microstates. The most important irreversible process generating entropy in the biosphere and, thus, facilitating this exploration, is the absorption and transformation of sunlight into heat. Here we hypothesize that life began, and persists today, as a catalyst for the absorption and dissipation of sunlight on the surface of Archean seas. The resulting heat could then be efficiently harvested by other irreversible processes such as the water cycle, hurricanes, and ocean and wind currents. RNA and DNA are the most efficient of all known molecules for absorbing the intense ultraviolet light that penetrated the dense early atmosphere and are remarkably rapid in transforming this light into heat in the presence of liquid water. From this perspective, the origin and evolution of life, inseparable from water and the water cycle, can be understood as resulting from the natural thermodynamic imperative of increasing the entropy production of the Earth in its interaction with its solar environment. A mechanism is proposed for the reproduction of RNA and DNA without the need for enzymes, promoted instead through UV light dissipation and diurnal temperature cycling of the Archean sea-surface.
Revised: 27 Jul 2010 – Accepted: 24 Feb 2011 – Published: 11 Mar 2011
Michaelian, K.: Thermodynamic dissipation theory for the origin of life, Earth Syst. Dynam., 2, 37-51, doi:10.5194/esd-2-37-2011, 2011.