'The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth: The Emergence of the Forth Geosphere' by Eric Smith and Harold J Morowitz
This is a groundbreaking, scholarly resourced book illustrated with examples of natural processes drawn from the inner workings of the biosphere itself. It is logically and scientifically written, looking at the origin of life as a ‘nearly inevitable’ consequence of geophysical, geochemical and energy flow processes that have been taking place on this planet for billions of years. The recently discovered submarine vents and its associated organisms provide powerful insights into the chemotrophic ecosystems that has been proposed as a model for early life-enabling environments. The authors describe in detail the carbon fixation pathways and the build-up of complex organisms and ecosystems in existence today, based on natural processes and develop novel concepts of phase transitions and the necessary order in face of persavive disturbance as fundamental to establishing hierarchical complex systems.
The book elegantly discusses ‘in equilibrium’ and ‘out of equilibrium’ transition phases and the preservation of biological species as example of cross-level coupling and complex order achieved by the biosphere. The authors seek to overturn the perception that life is a paradox of thermodynamics, but instead it should be understood as a continuation, not a departure from it. Life is presented to the reader as a new domain within thermodynamics involving the partitioning role of the abiotic geosphere, small-molecules network, carbon reduction and carbon bonds, the chemical path to aminoacids, sugar phosfates carbon-nitrogen heterocycles transition to cellular encapsulation of lipids, catalytic RNA and iron and reliable translation giving bith to biological phylogeny.
Harold Morowitz unfortunately passed away following publication of the book in 2016 and so the Award was given to him posthumously, alongside Eric Smith.