Popular hypotheses on the origin of life generally surround the priming by hereditary material, by partitioning by micelles, or by early metabolic cycling. In Beginnings of Cellular Life, Harold Morowitz argues a sort of combination between the latter two, connecting the physical chemistries of carbon fixation, properties of C, O, H, N, P, and S, and extremely specific array of small (<500Da) organic molecules found in today’s cells. The result is a concise and potentially testable series of reactions that could have set up proto-cell membranes and the first non-equilibrium reactions. And all it would rely upon is Morowitz’s specialty – energy flow – and materials for acid-base and/or ox-redux reactions… basic chemistry.
To be sure, this book presents just a hypothesis. It is also probably over the heads of the average layperson. But his “principle of continuity” is the sound logic that any serious discussion on the origin of life must stick to, dismissing even Jacques Monod’s vision of the origin of life as an event that has happened in the past and is truly unique, such that it cannot be recreated in the lab (Chance and Necessity, 1971). Simply put, the origin of life is at least conceptually accessible to science, and therefore any relevant hypothesis must be falsifiable (or conversely, verifiable).
And as far as scientifically-argued explanations for the origin of life go, Morowitz has raised the bar, and having read the book, I’m surprised that this book has not gotten more publicity.