Supporting the Science of

Life's Origins

Our Mission

The BIOTA Institute is a US 501(c)(3) charitable organization established to support new research on the science of life’s origins and to explore its wider implications for humanity through multi-disciplinary collaboration. Our activities include: providing grants and mentorship for students and young scientists, hosting online meetings and data sharing, defining and sponsoring laboratory and field experiments, and producing media to engage the public. We are taking a novel approach by publishing a set of contributed experiments to test a specific scenario, the Hot Spring Hypothesis for an origin of life developed by Prof. David Deamer and Dr. Bruce Damer, both at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

A Scientific Revolution

The scientific quest to understand how life began on the Earth approximately 4 billion years ago is undergoing a revolution. Charles Darwin famously wrote in 1871 that he thought that life started in a warm little pond. Following a century of research centered on a variety of approaches, several international research teams have come together to further develop Darwin’s insight. Laboratory and field experiments have demonstrated that through wet-dry cycling of hot spring waters, molecules resembling proteins and RNA-like polymers can self-assemble and become encapsulated to form protocells, a first step on the evolutionary path to living cells. 

Scientific American introduced this new discovery to the public on the cover of its August 2017 issue, declaring it to be a revolution in science. It had been long thought that life began in the oceans and later emerged onto continents, but the authors of this article presented the remarkable discovery of a hot spring mineral called geyserite which contained evidence for live thriving on land 3.5 billion years ago. The article then proposed seven steps to life originating on a volcanic landscape starting with simple organic compounds. This scenario later became known as the Hot Spring Hypothesis for an Origin of Life. The BIOTA Institute has been tasked with a new mission to provide resources to students and young scientists for the experimental testing of each of these seven stages.

Wider Implications for Humanity

It has been suggested that like the revolution set off by Nicolaus Copernicus’ 1543 proposal of a sun-centered solar system, solving the mystery of how life can begin from a jumble of nonliving molecules will transform multiple human endeavors, including: 

  • Providing a new understanding of how complex, self-maintaining and evolving systems can emerge from simpler building blocks;
  • This understanding will permit us to build new classes of self-adapting complex systems in many fields of technology such as artificial intelligence, medicine, and for optimizing economic and social networks in society;
  • This discovery will also give us bottom-up insights into a novel philosophy of reality and an updated view of the processes of evolution;
  • Answering the question of how we were made will give humanity a transformed sense of meaning, and perhaps a low-level understanding of how we might all be interconnected within a larger field that drives both life and supports conscious awareness;
  • Having a working model for how life can start on Earth gives us a way to predict where life might start in the universe, how prevalent complex life might be and may also help us address the age-old question: are we alone?

Get Involved

You don’t have to have a PhD or even a science background to participate in BIOTA’s mission. We are growing, and need many hands at the bench (and working at the next hot spring pool) as well as help with the technology, communications, and the functions of building an organization. Please feel free to reach out to us with your interest and ideas.