The Golden Spike
The term “golden spike” refers to the last spike driven into the rails connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, creating the country’s First Transcontinental Railroad. Similarly, research at the intersection of top-down causality and the molecular diversity of bottom-up emergent dynamic chemical networks explores a unique space between chemical and biological evolution. Just as a pebble thrown into a pond creates ripples moving outward from the center, so alternative forms of life may emerge from the golden spike. It is even possible that there are other forms of life alongside those powered by the central dogma—what is often referred to as the shadow biosphere—at this juncture.
Although research at this juncture presents significant challenges, it also offers remarkable opportunities for alternative biochemical innovation. First, this opportunity encourages scientists to visit regions of the evolutionary landscape not previously explored through Earth’s history. Second, research findings could change what we currently think of as the pre-Darwinian threshold—before the appearance of the ribosome-—through the discovery of new signatures that emerge from dynamic chemical network research.