Discovering the Origin of Life and Aliens using Complex Molecules

Lee Cronin is the Regius Chair of Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, UK. Focusing on nanoscience and chemical complexity, he and his research group investigate how chemistry can revolutionize modern technology and even create life.


We have theorised that living things are unified by the ability to produce ‘unnatural’ or complex objects from molecules to space craft. By applying a new mathematical approach to finding complex systems, we are able to show that complex molecules cannot be formed by chance, and must be made by a living process or machine. In this talk I will explain how we have validated the method by monitoring existing efforts to make life in the laboratory in Glasgow and looking at the change in complexity of the molecules from the bottom up (chemicals to biology) as well as by going from the top down (biological cells to chemicals), see Figure1. I will also explain how this approach can be used to find life in the solar system and beyond.


Figure 1. Graph showing pathway assembly complexity number spanning dead chemistry to living biology and the bottom up (life in the lab) and top down (reverse synthetic biology) approaches to developing our measurement system.


  1.  P. C. W. Davies, C. H. Lineweaver, Astrobiology, 2000, 5, 154.

  2. S. A. Benner, K. G. Devine, L. N. Matveeva, D. H. Powell, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 2000, 97, 2425.

  3. S. M. Marshall, A. Murray, L. Cronin, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A., 2017, 375

  4. E. Dorn, K. H. Nealson, and C. Adami, J. Mol. Evol., 2011, 72, 283.


School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

Research tracks

Chemistry of Life + Fundamentals & Methods of Chemistry

More information

Lee Cronin's homepage

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Plenary lecture

Tuesday 10 December

20:30 - 21:15h



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CHAINS 2019 is organised by NWO Domain Science with the support of partners Holland Chemistry and KNCV