WG2: Searching for the origins of the building blocks of life


 - J. Brucato (Italy)Origins of the building blocks of life
 - T. Kee  (U.K.): Origins of the building blocks of life 

Once a habitable planet is formed, how are the building blocks of life formed ? Did they form in situ on the planet or were they delivered from space, or both? The space telescope HERSCHEL has detected several new interstellar molecules in space while the new ALMA interferometer array will enable the identification of even larger chemical species in star-forming regions, hot cores and protoplanetary discs. The major scientific challenge is to find out how and where these molecules are formed and how they can be delivered onto habitable planets including Earth.

This will require the  detection of prebiotic organic molecules in space and elucidation of their formation mechanisms by a combined experimental, theoretical and modeling effort. It is then necessary to determine chemical origin of biomolecules and how those can self-organize into the structured dynamic reaction networks that constitute a living entity. This will require  a laboratory reconstruction of life’s essential building blocks under simulated primitive Earth conditions which  can only be achieved through a systemic and transdisciplinary perspective that includes astrochemistry, geology and atmospheric chemistry to define the proper “boundary conditions” for prebiotic chemistry.

The availability of biologically relevant building blocks is necessary but is still not sufficient for the emergence of life. Only the conversion of such compounds into biopolymers and the subsequent organization of these products into interconnected networks/systems (i.e. primeval cell structures) will allow  the emergence of those multi-molecular processes that distinguish inanimate and animate matter. In the context of astrobiology, mineral or ice matrices may  have played a fundamental role in  the initial biopolymerization events, as they can selectively adsorb and protect molecules, assisting prebiotic synthesis and, perhaps, the organization of reaction networks.  Research undertaken in this Action will focus on defining the minimal chemical systems that can be considered as potential candidates towards the development of the early cellular architecture. This effort will be supported by evolutionary studies using comparative genomic, phylogenomic and  phylogenetic approaches.

Thus, the requirement of a dynamic, spatial and hierarchical organization requires  a new approach to our understanding of  prebiotic chemistry. Within this action  both theoretical and experimental studies will be performed in order to:

  1. Provide a novel conceptual systemic view to traditional prebiotic chemistry, by linking it to geochemistry and astrochemistry.
  2. Understand the continuity between chemical, prebiological, and early biological evolution.
  3. Advance the current knowledge of the formation of biomolecular precursors in space, heterogeneous and enantioselective catalysis, supramolecular self-assembled or self-organized chemical reaction networks, surface chemistry and synthetic cells.
  4. Provide the chemical understanding needed to define biosignatures on other planets/moons.

This task of following the biomolecular evolution from atoms in the interstellar medium through biopolymers to cells requires a broad cooperation between scientists from diverse fields: astrophysics, chemistry, geology, biochemistry as well as the history of science and philosophy that deals with questions about the level of complexity of life and asks : “Is life a gradually emerging phenomena or does it have some necessary and/or sufficient characteristics?“


CSO Approval date: 14/11/2013
Starting date: 15/05/2014
Ending date: 14/05/2018

Action Chair:
Dr. Muriel GARGAUD (FR)

Vice chair:
Prof. Wolf GEPPERT (SE)

STSM Manager:
Prof. Nigel MASON (UK)

Web Manager:



Grant Holder Financial Representative:

Mrs Annick Caperan

Science Officer:
Dr. Mafalda QUINTAS

Administrative Officer:
Ms Aranzazu SANCHEZ



A Trans-Domain Action supported by COST.

COST is supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020



Involved countries

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of Member Countries

Participating Countries
Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

COST International Partner Countries
Canada (UQAM), South Africa (Univ. of Johanesburgh)

Short Term Scientific Missions (STSMs)

Aiming at fostering collaboration, sharing new techniques, and infrastructure that may not be available in other participants' institutions or laboratories. STSMs are intended especially for young PhD researchers, but they are open to senior researchers as well. View the documents at this link.

 It should be explicitely noted that Master students are not eligible for STSMs which are for PhD students and more experienced researchers.

The life-Origins COST Project

Life-ORIGINS (TD1308) is a Trans Domain European COST Action dedicated to the scientific investigation of the origins and evolution of life on Earth and habitability of other planets.

The Action has specifically excluded the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life in its portfolio. Creationist theorems are also outside the Action’s remit.

Individuals are not allowed to use the name of the Action, its logo or any corporate identity of COST TD1308 in any communication without prior approval of the Management Committee.

All publications referencing the support of the Action should be sent to the appropriate Working Group chair at the time of submission.