Deep-sea black smoker
In the natural sciences, abiogenesis, or "chemical evolution", is the study of how life on Earth could have arisen from inanimate matter. It should not be confused with evolution, which is the study of how groups of living things change over time. Amino acids, often called "the building blocks of life", can form via natural chemical reactions unrelated to life, as demonstrated in the Millerâ€“Urey experiment, which involved simulating the conditions of the early Earth. In all living things, these amino acids are organized into proteins, and the construction of these proteins is mediated by nucleic acids. Thus the question of how life on Earth originated is a question of how the first nucleic acids arose.
The first living things on Earth are thought to be single cell prokaryotes. The oldest ancient fossil microbe-like objects are dated to be 3.5 Ga (billion years old), just a few hundred million years younger than Earth itself. By 2.4 Ga, the ratio of stable isotopes of carbon, iron and sulfur shows the action of living things on inorganic minerals and sediments and molecular biomarkers indicate photosynthesis, demonstrating that life on Earth was widespread by this time.
On the other hand, the exact sequence of chemical events that led to the first nucleic acids is not known. Several hypotheses about early life have been proposed, most notably the iron-sulfur world theory (metabolism without genetics) and the RNA world hypothesis (RNA life-forms).