As a principal investigator in the NASA Ames Exobiology Branch, Andrew Pohorille is searching for the origin of life on Earth, yet you won’t find him out in the field collecting samples or in a laboratory conducting experiments in test tubes. Instead, Pohorille studies the fundamental processes of life facing a computer.

Pohorille’s work is at the vanguard of a sea-change in how science can tackle the complex question of where life came from, how its biochemistry operates and what life elsewhere might be like. Rather than relying on the hit-and-miss of laboratory experiments, Pohorille believes that theoretical work is just as important, if not more so, in understanding how life could have emerged from non-life.

“The role of theory is twofold,” he says. “It provides explanations and generalizations of what is observed in experiments, but it also has some predictive power.”

(continue reading)