CERN to Use LHC Grid to Explore Origins of Life on Earth


While physicists at CERN use the Large Hadron Collider to study the origin of the universe and the origin of matter, in the future they may be asked to help crack the origin of life as well. On May 20, a small elite group of chemists and biologists gathered at CERN for a brainstorming workshop discussing ideas about the origin of life.

“We are hoping to use the computing grid to perform [future] simulations and analyses, which would enable us to go much further and deeper than we have been able to do so far. We have already done some small test runs just to make sure our software runs on the LHC grid, which seems to be the case,” Hordijk reported.

Hordijk is just one of many scientists studying various problems relating to the origin of life. Other areas being explored include self-reproducing RNA, ‘metabolism first’ theories and self-reproducing liposomes – small vesicles formed when lipid molecules, like fats and oils, align to make a membrane. Almost all the theoretical work is underpinned by complex models that would need large-scale computing power.

There are several options for computing power available out there, Bob Jones, project director of CERN’s openlab told the group, including other grid infrastructures, supercomputers, clouds and volunteer computing.

"Our group of seven origin of life workers, representing an initial group of 22 of the top researchers in the field, were truly thrilled by our CERN meeting,” said Kauffman. “If CERN wishes it, we hope to become a small part of the CERN world, for the origin of life is itself a problem in physics. New science can arise in unexpected ways."

First, however, the Origin of Life group needs to make a formal proposal for such a project, and CERN must agree formally to support the work. “We hope this occurs. Such approval will help drive an international effort in origin of life research,” Kauffman said.

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