The Origin of Life

Volume 28 Issue 3 | March 2014

Cover Story

RNA World 2.0

By | March 1, 2014

Most scientists believe that ribonucleic acid played a key role in the origin of life on Earth, but the versatile molecule isn’t the whole story.  

Featured Articles

image: A Twist of Fate

A Twist of Fate

By | March 1, 2014

Once believed to be irrevocably differentiated, mature cells are now proving to be flexible, able to switch identities with relatively simple manipulation.

image: Viruses Reconsidered

Viruses Reconsidered

By | March 1, 2014

The discovery of more and more viruses of record-breaking size calls for a reclassification of life on Earth.  




Meet some of the people featured in the March 2014 issue of The Scientist.


Let There Be Life

How did Earth become biological?

Speaking of Science

Speaking of Science

March 2014's selection of notable quotes


Keys to the Minibar

Degraded DNA from museum specimens, scat, and other sources has thwarted barcoding efforts, but researchers are filling in the gaps with mini-versions of characteristic genomic stretches.

Jaws, Reconsidered

Biologist Jelle Atema is putting the sensory capabilities of sharks to the test—and finding that the truth is more fascinating than fiction.

Air Traffic

Scientists use DNA sequencing to identify what’s attracting birds to airports, where midair collisions with planes can be devastating.

Northern Exposure

Researchers are using snowdrifts to artificially warm Arctic tundra during winter and finding that more carbon is released from the soil than plants can soak up from the atmosphere.

Thought Experiment

Ancient Life in the Information Age

What can bioinformatics and systems biology tell us about the ancestor of all living things?

Critic at Large

Campus Considerations

Career options and research opportunities at two-year colleges are often underappreciated.

Modus Operandi

Tension Tracker

For the first time, researchers quantify the mechanical forces cells exert on one another.

The Literature

Path Finding

Biochemistry reveals the missing link in a pathway that archaea and some bacteria use to generate essential compounds.

Early Evidence

Fossilized structures suggest that mat-forming microbes have been around for almost 3.5 billion years.

Exosome Tentacles

Unlike the usual smooth, spherical shape of exosomes, glioblastoma-derived exosomes appear to have long nanofilaments protruding from their surfaces.


Summoned From the Depths

Geobiologist Roger Summons analyzes organic material in rocks found deep inside Earth, looking for evidence of how life originated and evolved on our planet—and possibly on Mars.  

Scientist to Watch

Matthew Powner: Origin Solver

Lecturer, Department of Chemistry, University College London. Age: 32

Lab Tools

Keeping Your Cool

A guide to recent advances in ultra-low-temperature freezers and accessories that can help safeguard frozen samples  

A CRISPR Fore-Cas-t

A newcomer’s guide to the hottest gene-editing tool on the block

Bio Business

Incubator Boom

From San Francisco to St. Louis, biotech incubators are proliferating across North America. Can they deliver on their promise of fueling the economy?  

Reading Frames

Is Earth Special?

Reconsidering the uniqueness of life on our planet

Capsule Reviews

Capsule Reviews

The Sixth Extinction, Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love, Ha! The Science of When we Laugh and Why, and Ten Thousand Birds


Discovering Archaea, 1977

Ribosomal RNA fingerprints reveal the three domains of life.

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