About The Editors

JEFFREY TZE-FEI WONG has worked on various aspects of the genetic code for over thirty years, including its birth, its coevolution with the amino acid biosynthetic pathways, its mutation to open up the encoding of unnatural amino acids, and the tracing of its universality to a methanogen root of life. Earlier at the University of Toronto, and in recent years at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, he has developed the application of transfer RNAs and aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases as phylogenetic probes. He is the author of Kinetics of Enzyme Mechanisms, which is focused on multisubstrate enzyme reactions.

ANTONIO LAZCANO is considered the most distinguished Latin American evolutionist and a world leading authority on the study of the origins and early evolution of life. Born in Mexico, he has worked for over thirty years in a number of problems related to the emergence of life. His books include La Bacteria Prodigiosa (The Miraculous Bacteria), La Chispa de la Vida (The Spark ofLife) and El Origen de la Vida (The Origin of Life). He is also the first Latin American scientist that has been Chair ofthe Gordon Conference on the Origins of Life, and has served on a number ofadvisory boards including ones for NASA and other international organizations. He was the President of the International Society for the Study of the Origins of Life, being the first Latin American scientist elected to this position. He received an honorary degree from the University of Milano (2008), as well as the Golden Medal for Biological Research (Puebla, 1990), the Medal of the Founders of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (2005), and the Francesco Redi Medal of the Italian Society of Astrobiology (2008).

With the accelerating pace of genomic analysis and space exploration, the field of prebiotic evolution and astrobiology is poised for a century of unprecedented advances, and there is a need for textbooks for students. The authors of this book, aware of the difficulty of covering the multifaceted subject by any single author, have decided to combine their efforts to provide a suitable book for beginning students from varied disciplines. The book stemmed from a meeting on Basic Questions about the Origin of Life at the Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture in Erice, Sicily in October 2006, where Pier Luigi Luisi laid out a balanced program to approach the subject. The present book basically follows that program.

Chapter 1 addresses, on the foundation of cell biology and molecular biology, the millenia-old questions posed by the essence oflife and defining moment of life. Chapter 2 characterizes the minimal cell as the goal of prebiotic evolution. Chapters 3-5 present the realm of astrobiological exploration, centering on Europa, Titan, Enceladus, Mars and the comets, which is highlighted by the historical finding of water on Mars in 2008 as one of the farthest reaching frontiers of science in the 21st Century. Chapters 6 and 7 are focused on meteoric chemistry and the discovery of L-enantiomeric excesses of chiral amino acids on meteorites, which reveals a surprising trait shared by space and biological chemistries. Since primitive Earth was the stage ofprebiotic evolution, its conditions were of critical importance to the emergence of life: those conditions are delineated in Chapter 8. The prebiotic syntheses of biomolecules small and large culminating in the appearance of RNA is discussed in Chapters 9 and 10, and Chapter 11 probes the inner workings of the RNA world. Chapter 12 describes the principles of the functional protocell and different models of precellular evolution. The puzzle of split genes of transfer RNA and proteins is analyzed in Chapter 13. The origin, evolution and mutation of the genetic code are discussed in Chapter 14, and Chapter 15 examines the nature and genome of the Last Universal Common Ancestor at the root of life, as well as the formation of different biological domains from this root.

Antonio Lazcano, despite family health concerns over the past months, has devoted a great deal of time and hard work in adjusting and finalizing the balance of the chapters. The many authors have produced most thoughtful, authoritative and readable chapters on their areas so that the student may grasp the background, objective and progress of the major research foci in the field. I am grateful to Hannah Xue, Flora Mat, Ka-Lok Tong, Siu-Kin Ng and Jianhuan Chen for their dedicated research collaboration and assistance in the preparation ofthis book. Without the understanding and support of my wife Eva, the book would not have been undertaken or completed.

J. Tze-Fei Wong, PhD

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