“The Lipid World” was published in 2001, stemming from a highly effective collaboration with David Deamer during a sabbatical year 20 years ago at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. The present review paper highlights the benefits of this scientific interaction and assesses the impact of the lipid world paper on the present understanding of the possible roles of amphiphiles and their assemblies in the origin of life. The lipid world is defined as a putative stage in the progression towards life’s origin, during which diverse amphiphiles or other spontaneously aggregating small molecules could have concurrently played multiple key roles, including compartment formation, the appearance of mutually catalytic networks, molecular information processing, and the rise of collective self-reproduction and compositional inheritance. This review brings back into a broader perspective some key points originally made in the lipid world paper, stressing the distinction between the widely accepted role of lipids in forming compartments and their expanded capacities as delineated above. In the light of recent advancements, we discussed the topical relevance of the lipid worldview as an alternative to broadly accepted scenarios, and the need for further experimental and computer-based validation of the feasibility and implications of the individual attributes of this point of view. Finally, we point to possible avenues for exploring transition paths from small molecule-based noncovalent structures to more complex biopolymer-containing proto-cellular systems.
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