Wider Social Implications of Discovering the Origin of Life
Currently the route to understanding our biological heritage is by no means clear-cut or straightforward. Nevertheless, defining the patterns and processes through which life on Earth came to be formed would undoubtedly have a significant and lasting impact upon society in general. For example, assuming that scientists could make life de novo under laboratory conditions would mean it is highly probable that we are not alone in the Universe. Fundamentally this would necessitate addressing the ethical, scientific and religious challenges ahead of us.
Ethically, we have to consider long term human choices and actions in respect to extraterrestrial life, which would include conservation of the richness and diversity of life in the Universe.
Scientifically, understanding how and in what conditions biological life was formed would have great significance for environmental affairs, perhaps helping us to replicate those conditions that are favourable to life. Additionally, a better understanding of genetic history would provide fresh research areas for ecology and medicine. More ambitiously, replicating the conditions necessary for life in extraterrestrial environments could be given new impetus from a wider understanding of life’s roots. These developments could serve to consolidate a global scientific academic community and promote interdisciplinary co-operation, much as the ‘Space Race’ did half a century ago.