We are primarily interested in how certain linear digital sequences of monomers were covalently (rigidly) bound so as to only later provide instruction for amino acid sequencing, folding, and three-dimensional dynamic function. The Prize offer is designed to stimulate focused research on the origin of initial genetic instructions themselves.
So much of life origin work centers around biochemical factors. But biopolymers catalyzed by clay surfaces, for example, do not necessarily contain any functional (prescriptive) information. How does an algorithmically complex sequence of codons arise in nature which finds phenotypic usefulness only after translation into a completely different language (AA sequence)? How did natural process produce so indirectly the hundreds of needed three-dimensional protein catalysts for life to begin?
Selection must occur at the molecular/genetic level, not just at the fittest phenotype level of already living organisms. This is called The GS Principle, sometimes referred to as The Second Law of Biology. Any successful model of life-origin would have to falsify this principle.
In addition, a winning submission would have to provide empirical falsification of The Cybernetic Cut. This principle states that prescriptive information flows only from formalism to physicality over an infinitely deep ravine across a one-way C S Bridge (The Configurable Switch Bridge). Thus far, physicodynamics has never been observed to organize non trivial formal function. Physicodynamics has never been observed to exercise choice contingency at decision nodes, logic gates, and configurable-switch settings. Organization is impossible without selection for potential function. Natural selection cannot select potential function. Natural selection is nothing more than the differential survival and reproduction of the fittest already living organisms. Physicodynamics is blind to isolated formal function. Inanimate nature has no preference for function over non function. It could care less whether physical interactions and chemical reactions provide utility or any kind.
Mathematically, it is impossible to go backwards from 20 AA to 64 codons. There is no way to know which of four or six codons, for example, coded a given AA when one tries to go backwards against the "Central Dogma." Prescriptive Information has been lost. Various models of code origin often pursue primordial codon systems of only two nitrogen bases rather than three. At some point, such a two-base codon system must evolve into a three-base codon system. But catastrophic problems such as global frame shifts would have resulted from such a change midstream in the evolution of genetic code.
Environmental selection, if existent at all in a prebiotic environment, is nothing more than after-the-fact differential survivability/reproduction of certain stochastic ensembles in certain environments. How did initial genetic code-certain sequences of codons-come to specify only certain three-dimensional sequences of amino acid strings that "work"?
The winning submission will likely provide both a novel and cardinal conceptual contribution to current biological science and information theory.
The Foundation welcomes theoretical models of a more direct primordial instruction system (one that might have preceded codon transcription and translation) provided the model provides explanation of continuous transition (abiding by the "continuity principle") to current prokaryotic and eukaryotic empirical life.
Inanimate stepping stones of abiotic evolution are essential components to any natural process theory of the molecular evolution of life. Full reign must be given to the exploration of spontaneously forming complexity and to self-ordering inanimate systems. But reductionistic attempts to provide models of life development must not sacrifice the very property of "life" that biology seeks to explain. Coacervates, micelles, vesicles, and various primordial quasimembrane models, for example, may resemble membrane equivalents and merit considerable ongoing research, but should not be confused with the active transport membranes of the simplest known free-living organisms.