Understanding Evolution

From soup to cells — the origin of life

A microbe-like cellular filament found in 3.465 billion year old rock
A microbe-like cellular filament found in 3.465 billion year old rock
Evolution encompasses a wide range of phenomena: from the emergence of major lineages, to mass extinctions, to the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria in hospitals today. However, within the field of evolutionary biology, the origin of life is of special interest because it addresses the fundamental question of where we (and all living things) came from.

Many lines of evidence help illuminate the origin of life: ancient fossils, radiometric dating, the phylogenetics and chemistry of modern organisms, and even experiments. However, since new evidence is constantly being discovered, hypotheses about how life originated may change or be modified. It's important to keep in mind that changes to these hypotheses are a normal part of the process of science and that they do not represent a change in the basis of evolutionary theory.

Here, you can learn about important hypotheses regarding when, where and how life originated and find out how scientists study an event that occurred so long ago.


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Apex Chert microbe-like cellular filament image provided by J. William Schopf

Understanding Evolution © 2021 by The University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California