Special Issue "Themed Issue Commemorating Prof. David Deamer's 80th Birthday"

A special issue of Life (ISSN 2075-1729). This special issue belongs to the section "Life Sciences".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 October 2019

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Bruce Damer

1. Department of Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
2. DigitalSpace Research, Boulder Creek, CA 95006, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: origin of life; computational modeling; space science; theoretical biology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,


Taken at Shaw River, Pilabara, Western Australia, Summer 2015. Credit: Tara Djokic

Research on how and where the origin of life might have occurred on the Earth some four billion years ago is slowly undergoing a paradigm shift. It is becoming increasingly clear that fresh water hydrothermal conditions may be more conducive than salty sea water for processes leading to the emergence of evolving protocell populations. Central to that shift has been the work of Professor David Deamer, who is now a Research Professor in the Department of Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Throughout his academic career, Deamer has had unusually broad research interests, primarily focusing on membrane biophysics and nucleic acid chemistry but also exploring the burgeoning field of astrobiology.

Over thirty years ago, Deamer reported that amphiphilic compounds present in a certain class of ancient meteorites can assemble into membranous boundaries required for the origin of primitive cellular life (Nature, 1985). Curious about how membranes could have interacted with other compounds in the prebiotic environment, Deamer began to explore prebiotic analogue sites such as the fresh water hot springs and pools associated with volcanic land masses like Iceland, Hawaii and Kamchatka, where he observed that the hydrothermal water in such sites undergoes endless cycles of evaporation and rehydration.

Deamer decided to simulate wet-dry cycles in the laboratory in order to investigate what happens when mixtures of membrane-forming amphiphilic compounds like fatty acids and phospholipids are exposed to these conditions. He discovered that the amphiphiles assemble into multilayered films on mineral surfaces during evaporation, and that other solutes become organized and concentrated between the layers. This includes nucleotides, the monomers of nucleic acids, which go on to form RNA-like polymers when ester bonds are synthesized between the monomers. When the films were rehydrated, the polymers are encapsulated within self-assembled vesicles. In collaboration with other researchers, these experimental foundations have been expanded into a full hypothesis that was published in Life and other scientific journals, and as a cover article in Scientific American (August 2017). 

Even the most basic research can lead to valuable applications, and research on the origin of life is no exception. For instance, in 1989 Deamer was wondering how nutrients might have been transported across the membranes of protocells. One possibility is that some of the polymers might form channels through the membrane, perhaps even large enough to accommodate a long nucleic acid molecule. From other work, Deamer knew that ionic current through a channel could be modulated by molecules passing through, and proposed that the modulations might be a way to determine the base sequence in the nucleic acid. The idea was patented in 1998, then licensed to a company that developed it into a commercial nanopore sequencing device. Deamer plans to use the device in his latest research, which will test whether wet-dry cycles not only synthesize polymers resembling RNA and DNA, but may also drive molecular functions like replication and transcription. If this is possible, it will provide yet another piece to the biogenesis puzzle.

If there is one statement that sums up Prof. Deamer’s career it might be this: We are discovering that self-assembly, a biophysical process, was probably the key to life emerging in the chaotic conditions of the prebiotic Earth. The chemical reactions that are the foundation of metabolism, growth and replication could only begin after molecular systems were contained in membranous compartments. Vast numbers of such compartments, each different from all the rest, were the first populations of protocells capable of undergoing the selection and evolutionary processes that led to the origin of life.

Detailed history (from Wikipedia) mainly focused on his work on nanopore sequencing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_W._Deamer

The journal is pleased to be publishing a commemorative issue in honor of Professor David Deamer for his outstanding contributions in the fields of the origins of life and genetics on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2019.

This Special Issue of Life welcomes submission of unpublished manuscripts of original work or reviews on previous work. We plan to receive submissions now or up until the deadline (21 April 2019).

Dr. Bruce Damer
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 650 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • membrane biophysics
  • origins of life
  • nonenzymatic polymerization
  • meteoritic delivery of organics
  • astrobiology
  • nanopore sequencing
  • others TBD

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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