The Evolutionary Origins of Life and Death

The Evolutionary Origins of Life and Death

Pierre M. Durand

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226747620

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The origins of life and cell death were the two most foundational events on which all other biological processes rest. This book provides the most up-to-date syntheses of why and how life and cell death originated. By integrating the information from diverse disciplines like philosophy, biochemistry, theoretical models, genomics, and other disciplines, a likely scenario for life’s origins is presented. The broad sketch suggests eight key evolutionary steps for the origin and evolution of life, long before cellular life as we understand it began. Soon after cells emerged, an active way of dying evolved. Programmed cell death is perhaps as old as cellular life itself, but its origin and evolution are enigmatic. As with life’s origins, a synthesis for the evolution of death in unicellular organisms is presented. Drawing on multiple lines of enquiry and evidence, the evolutionary innovations necessary for programmed cell death to emerge are sketched. Not only is non-incidental death itself an important evolutionary milestone, but it is a fascinating lens through which to examine the inter-connectedness between life and death. An unexpected coevolutionary relationship is revealed that was essential for more complex life histories like eukaryogenesis, multicellularity and insect eusociality to emerge. In an ironic twist, it becomes clear that in many circumstances, programmed cell death is essential for sustaining life. Sociobiological phenomena like cooperation, altruism, coadaptation, kin and group selection, and the levels of selection problem take center stage in this account of the origin and evolution of life and death.