Biosphere Daily Earth Science Repost

Chemotons and early life

How do we define life?

An obscure Hungarian biologist passed away at age 75 on April 15, 2009. Tibor Gánti labored with his work, hidden behind the Soviet Iron Curtain. His obscurity was not helped by an argumentative and paranoid personality, making him hard to work with. But in the past decade since his passing, his stock in the world of science has risen, along with his thinking on the chemoton, perhaps life’s earliest venture on primordial Earth.

What was the earliest form of life on Earth, and what exactly do we mean by life? These are valid questions, causing us to probe into the gray areas between organic and inorganic. Gánti’s concept of the chemoton encompasses three critical elements:

1)         Metabolic activity for creating energy 

2)         The ability to reproduce 

3)         A membrane containing the metabolic and reproductive machinery 

The chemoton lives a simple life starting with the absorption of food molecules. Don’t think of your dinner plate here. Broaden your perspective to include any molecule that can be processed to produce energy; CO2, ammonia, iron, sulfur, and more serve as food for different types of life.

Once energy is available, the Chemoton uses it to build parts for its membrane and its replication system. Finally, any waste products are expelled outside of the membrane. All in all, not a very glamorous life, but life none-the-less. In essence, the chemotron only needs to build and maintain its body and store information about itself to make copies (reproduce).

Gánti’s chemoton stands in contrast to common arguments advocating that life arose from just proteins or just lipids. The chemoton concept holds that life is not simply proteins, lipids, and DNA. Life only arises when these components join up in the right configuration.


He may have found the key to the origins of life. So why have so few heard of him? (By Michael Marshall, National Geographic) –

Feature Image: Chemoton (Modified by ArcheanWeb) – Original Credit: By DataBase Center for Life Science (DBCLS) –, CC BY 4.0,

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.