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Jigsaw model of the origin of life

John McGowan jmcgowan at veriomail.com
Wed Aug 8 14:13:53 EST 2001

Title: Jigsaw model of the origin of life
Author: John F. McGowan


It is suggested that life originated in a three-step process referred to as
the jigsaw model.  RNA, proteins, or similar organic molecules polymerized
in a dehydrated carbon-rich environment, on surfaces in a carbon-rich
environment, or in another environment where polymerization occurs. These
polymers subsequently entered an aqueous environment where they folded into
compact structures.  It is argued that the folding of randomly generated
polymers such as RNA or proteins in water tends to partition the folded
polymer into domains with hydrophobic cores and matching shapes to minimize
energy. In the aqueous environment, hydrolysis or other reactions fragmented
the compact structures into two or more matching molecules, occasionally
producing simple living systems, also known as autocatalytic sets of
molecules.  It is argued that the hydrolysis of folded polymers such as RNA
or proteins is not random.  The hydrophobic cores of the domains are rarely
bisected due to the energy requirements in water.  Hydrolysis preferentially
fragments the folded polymers into pieces with complementary structures and
chemical affinities.  Thus the probability of producing a system of matched,
interacting molecules in prebiotic chemistry is much higher than usually
estimated. Environments where this process may occur are identified. For
example, the jigsaw model suggests life may have originated at a seep of
carbonaceous fluids beneath the ocean.  The polymerization occurred beneath
the sea floor.  The folding and fragmentation occurred in the ocean.  The
implications of this hypothesis for seeking life or prebiotic chemistry in
the Solar System are explored.

Keywords: RNA, protein, polymer, jigsaw, origin

John F. McGowan, III, "Jigsaw model of the origin of life" in Instruments,
Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology IV, Richard B. Hoover, Editor,
Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 4495, (2001), (In press)

An electronic preprint is available at:


The file is in Adobe Acrobat PDF 4.0 file format.  A free PDF viewer is
from the Adobe web site http://www.adobe.com/

John F. McGowan, Ph.D.
Voice: (650) 961-1429
E-Mail: jmcgowan at veriomail.com
Home Page: http://www.jmcgowan.com/


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