Lifeness signatures and the roots of the tree of life

Biology and Philosophy 25 (4):643-658 (2010)
Abstract
Do trees of life have roots? What do these roots look like? In this contribution, I argue that research on the origins of life might offer glimpses on the topology of these very roots. More specifically, I argue (1) that the roots of the tree of life go well below the level of the commonly mentioned ‘ancestral organisms’ down into the level of much simpler, minimally living entities that might be referred to as ‘protoliving systems’, and (2) that further below, a system of roots gradually dissolves into non-living matter along several functional dimensions. In between non-living and living matter, one finds physico-chemical systems that I propose to characterize by a ‘lifeness signature’. In turn, this ‘lifeness signature’ might also account for a diverse range of biochemical entities that are found to be ‘less-than-living’ yet ‘more-than-non-living’.
Keywords tree of life  lifeness signature  origin of life  definition of life  protoliving systems  protocells  LUCA
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