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One of the main requirements for life to come about is reproduction


Without reproduction there would be no evolution
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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Life came about whenever the conditions were...

[Q] Suitable...

...suitable. Our planet, the earth, is assumed to be 4.7 billion years old, so it took several hundred million years for it to cool down, to develop a chemistry in which these reactions could come about, so life couldn't be much older than 4 billion years. And we say, 'Well, when the conditions were all right, life was here'. And then it took another 3 billion year before a single cell started to differentiate and before multicellular organisms came about. So life as such came very quickly, while the evolution then took its time. So this is one of the big requirements, we started asking the question: what is necessary in order for life to come? We said reproduction. Without reproduction, no evolution, no selection, no evolution. Reproduction requires a particular kind of molecule, namely the nucleic acid. It requires that one building block binds preferably to another one which we call complementary.  In the nucleic acid it's the A with the U or the A with the T, and the G with the C. So whenever you have a sequence of these letters you produce by copying a complementary one, like in photography you produce a negative of your... and the negative can then be converted into the positive...

Nobel Prize winning German biophysical chemist, Manfred Eigen (1927-2019), was best known for his work on fast chemical reactions and his development of ways to accurately measure these reactions down to the nearest billionth of a second. He published over 100 papers with topics ranging from hydrogen bridges of nucleic acids to the storage of information in the central nervous system.

Listeners: Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitch

Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch is the eldest daughter of the Austrian physicist Klaus Osatitsch, an internationally renowned expert in gas dynamics, and his wife Hedwig Oswatitsch-Klabinus. She was born in the German university town of Göttingen where her father worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Aerodynamics under Ludwig Prandtl. After World War II she was educated in Stockholm, Sweden, where her father was then a research scientist and lecturer at the Royal Institute of Technology.

In 1961 Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch enrolled in Chemistry at the Technical University of Vienna where she received her PhD in 1969 with a dissertation on "Fast complex reactions of alkali ions with biological membrane carriers". The experimental work for her thesis was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Göttingen under Manfred Eigen.

From 1971 to the present Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch has been working as a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen in the Department of Chemical Kinetics which is headed by Manfred Eigen. Her interest was first focused on an application of relaxation techniques to the study of fast biological reactions. Thereafter, she engaged in theoretical studies on molecular evolution and developed game models for representing the underlying chemical proceses. Together with Manfred Eigen she wrote the widely noted book, "Laws of the Game" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1981 and Princeton University Press, 1993). Her more recent studies were concerned with comparative sequence analysis of nucleic acids in order to find out the age of the genetic code and the time course of the early evolution of life. For the last decade she has been successfully establishing industrial applications in the field of evolutionary biotechnology.

Tags: Reproduction, nucleic acid

Duration: 2 minutes

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008