> The citric acid cycle within chemistry performs a kind of concentration.

As the molecule goes around it pulls in carbon, and then here it splits, and both parts go back into the cycle, so where you had one you now have two. That's the mathematics of compound interest. So you can exponentially grow, and you concentrate material within the cycle. Also like compound interest, on an endowment, you can pull molecules off of this to make your major classes of biological matter, but the material in the cycle is still available to serve as a kind of fly-paper that continues to pull carbon in over and over again.

This leads to an important way to think about the nature of life. You could imagine that the optimization of this cycle This cycle is self-amplifying, it works from the environmental sources of carbon, it works from the earth's sources of electrons,and everything in the biosphere is made from it. The biosphere is what you can make if these are the compounds you have. This is why it becomes the core that organizes the whole rest of metabolism.


So the first apparent problem with obtaining the origin of life, the problem of complexity, now doesn't seem so bad. But that's not the only problem we have to address.

There's a classic view of life as a "struggle for existence". The term was coined by the Victorian reverend Thomas Malthus who was worried about population and famines and wars. This was a term that was adopted also by Darwin, and was fundamental to why evolution can work: you overproduce and then you cull. The same language permeates the sciences; we talk about capturing resources or harnessing sunlight energy. So the intuition is that things fall apart, and your in this Syssiphean task of building up against the forces of decay. And in the oxygenic world, that's right. If I take organic carbon I can put it in a furnace and it will burn and go back to carbon dioxide, which is where it started from.

But in the world of vents the rules are different. My colleague and friend Everett Schacht probably put this best: Instead of no such thing as a free lunch or a struggle for existence, the vent world is a free lunch you are paid to eat... In the vent world you are not building up complexity as a struggle against the release of energy. You're building up complexity because that's the path of least resistance to the release of energy.

More: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cwvj0XBKlE

// The redder a carbon is colored, the more oxygen is has bound to it, the bluer they are, the more hydrogen it has bound.
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