Towards Molecular Complexity: At the crossroads between astrophysics and biochemistry

Conference about Origin Of Life

organized by the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy

May 2-6, 2022

The Origin of Life is one of the most fascinating and challenging scientific questions. Collaborative efforts from observational, laboratory and theoretical studies in various scientific disciplines are needed to begin to address this question. This HIFOL conference will bring together the experts from a broad range of scientific disciplines pursuing OoL studies from astrophysical, chemical, biological, geological, etc. perspectives. A key aspect of this conference is the focus on controversial topics that trigger intense scientific debates and remain unresolved. Our aim is to provide a convenient conference venue for about 40-50 participants (per invitation only) and to give them ample time for presentations and in-person discussions. We have chosen the following key OoL topics:

1. How complex was the prebiotic organic matter and what processes led to its emergence on the early Earth? Exogenous vs. in situ routes for the synthesis and evolution of prebiotic organics on the early Earth.

2. Hydrothermal vents in the first ocean vs. hydrothermal fields on the first continental units and volcanic islands as environments where the first life could have originated.

3. How plausible is the RNA World hypothesis for the origin of life? Are there other biomolecules that could have served as genetic storage, catalysis, and metabolism "carriers"?

4. The role of autocatalysis and autocatalytic sets in the origin of life. The first steps towards abiotic molecular evolution and self-sustained molecular systems.

5. Inferring the principles leading to self-organization, prebiotic aggregates and minimum cell assemblies.

This is a timely initiative, driven by the rapid progress in detection and characterization of exoplanets and their atmospheres, in understanding the chemical complexity in space, new organic synthesis routes toward amino acids, nucleotides, and fatty acids, the role of autocatalysis for the emergence of the first coupled organic synthesis cycles, as well as new insights from paleogeology, biochemistry, biology, etc. We decided to give the opportunity for many young scientists to present review and contributed talks at this meeting, while also inviting more senior colleagues to lead and "ignite" the discussions during the meeting.

LOC (clickable)

Thomas Henning
Catharina Fairchild (contact via fairchild AT
Dmitry Semenov (contact via semenov AT


Haus Der Astronomie

  • "The Haus der Astronomie (HdA), literally "House of Astronomy", is a unique Centre for Astronomy Education and Outreach in Heidelberg, Germany. Haus der Astronomie was founded in late 2008 by the Max Planck Society e.V. for the Advancement of Science (Germany's leading organization for basic research) and the Klaus Tschira Foundation gGmbH. In the fall of 2011, the Haus der Astronomie commenced operations in its very own galaxy-shaped building on the Königstuhl mountain in Heidelberg, where the campus of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy lies.

    Get more information about Haus der Astronomie

  • A quick guide how to reach Heidelberg:
    1. By plane:
    For your arrival by plane, the airports Frankfurt (FRA), Frankfurt-Hahn (HHN), Stuttgart (STR) as well as Mannheim (MHG) can be considered. After that, please take a Deutsche Bahn train or a bus shuttle to Heidelberg. The bus shuttle needs to be pre-booked in advance, while a train ticket could be bought right before or during the trip.
    2. By train:
    Take the ICE, IC, EC or S-Bahn to Heidelberg Central Station. Usually, one has to change the trains in Mannheim.

  • Please find below more information about how to reach the MPIA Campus:

    Travel directions to MPIA Campus

  • We will organize a bus transfer from the center of Heidelberg to the MPIA Campus and back each conference day (with "discipulus" bus company). The bus stop is called "Peterskirche" and is located at Friedrich-Ebert-Anlage, close to the hotel "Monpti" (Google Maps). The bus to the MPIA campus will be leaving at 8:30 am each morning. During the first two days, our colleagues Giulia and Tushar will be there to guide/help you with the bus transfer.



      Monday, 02.05.22: "Exogenous delivery vs. in situ syntheses of prebiotic organics"

      Tuesday, 03.05.22: "Hydrothermal vents vs hydrothermal fields as environments for origin of life"

      Wednesday, 04.05.22: "Is the RNA World hypothesis for the OoL correct?"

      Thursday, 05.05.22: "Autocatalysis and the origin of life"

      Friday, 06.05.22: "Inferring the principles leading to self-organization, prebiotic aggregates and minimum cell assemblies"

    The conference will begin at 9:00 am on Monday, May 2nd and will end at 2:00 pm on Friday, May 6th (2022). We also plan to have plenty of social activities:
    On Tuesday, May 3rd there will be a wine & cheese reception.
    On Wednesday, May 4th, we will organize a boat trip on the Neckar river.
    On Thursday, May 5th, we will have a lab tours at the MPIA Campus followed by the conference dinner at the PierIV restaurant.

    Click here to download a detailed programme


Talk Slides

  • PDF files of the presentations will be available after the conference in a protected Google Drive folder, and only upon speaker's consent.