By reconciling previously conflicting views about the origin of life – in which one
or other cellular subsystem precedes, and then ‘invents’ the others – a
new modus operandi for its study is suggested. Guided by this, a cyanosulfidic
protometabolism is uncovered which uses UV light and the stoichiometric
reducing power of hydrogen sulfide to convert hydrogen cyanide, and a couple
of other prebiotic feedstock molecules which can be derived therefrom, into
nucleic acid, peptide and lipid building blocks.
Copper plays several key roles in this chemistry, thus, for example, copper(I)-
copper(II) photoredox chemistry generates hydrated electrons, and copper(I)
catalysed cross coupling and copper(II) driven oxidative cross-coupling reactions
generate key feedstock molecules. Geochemical scenarios consistent with this
protometabolism are outlined.
Finally, the transition of a system from the inanimate to the animate state is
considered in the context of there being intermediate stages of partial