Driving the first steps of life in non-equilibrium settings

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How could life emerge on the early Earth? Our experiments probe the first steps of molecular evolution by non-equilibrium experiments. Typically, we used millimeter-scaled temperature gradients, including the effects of air-water interfaces. These environments accumulate molecules, select them for length, enable the strand separation of RNA and allow continuous feeding of fresh molecules. Using sequencing, we see diverse pathways in sequence space for structure to emerge from randomness. These experimental findings make us better understand what are the pitfalls to establish an open ended evolution. In many cases, these studies are still performed with the help of a protein, but we converge towards RNA only experiments, driven by surface tension, evaporation, thermophoresis and gravity in heated chambers to understand the first autocatalytic networks of Darwinian evolution.

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