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Reinhard Franziska | Writing-Up Fellow
2024-04-01 - 2024-09-30 | Research area: Philosophy of Biology
Knowledge-Making in Origins-of-Life Research

Re-construction or Re-invention? Experimental Strategies in Origins-of-Life Research
How, where, and why life first emerged are still open scientific questions. And origins-of-life researchers who try to answer them are in a particularly challenging epistemic situation. Evidence for processes at the origins-of-life taking place more than 3.5 billion years ago is extremely scarce. And yet, origins-of-life research is an active field. This project focuses on the epistemic value of experimental strategies commonly used in prebiotic chemistry – a subfield of origins-of-life research. Prebiotic chemists seek to understand how biomolecules formed from simpler components on the early Earth; how they self-assembled and ultimately gave rise to biological functions such as replication or metabolism. Researchers in prebiotic chemistry approach the origins-of-life as a chemical problem, which motivates their experimental strategy: they focus is on synthesizing – rather than analyzing – relevant biomolecules in the laboratory under conditions that are consistent with our knowledge of the early Earth environment. My project characterizes synthesis as a key experimental strategy for studying difficult-to-access target phenomena and gives an account of its epistemic value. I highlight that whether synthesis as an experimental strategy succeeds in being informative about long-past chemical process on the early Earth depends on the proliferation – the targeted accumulation – of different synthetic experimental solutions to the same problem, and their subsequent integration.