The question of how life first emerged here on Earth is a mystery that continues to elude scientists. Despite everything that scientists have learned from the fossil record and geological history, it is still not known how organic life emerged from inorganic elements (a process known as abiogenesis) billions of years ago.
Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on Oct. 3 “for his discoveries of the mechanisms for autophagy”, which is how cells “recycle” their contents. Autophagy is a quality control mechanism that destroys invading pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, detoxifies harmful materials and recycles large proteins into their individual building blocks, called amino acids. This lets the cell clear out harmful materials.
The origin of life on Earth has been a matter of intense debate throughout human history. Even today, scientists don’t know whether the molecular building blocks of life were created on Earth or whether they were brought here by comets and meteorites. This is obviously hugely important – if they were delivered to Earth then it seems plausible that they may have been transported to other planets, too.