Research Topic

Emerging Plurality of Life: Assessing the Questions, Challenges and Opportunities

About this Research Topic

Research groups around the world are currently busy trying to invent new life in the laboratory, or looking for extraterrestrial life. In the case of astrobiology, any newly discovered life would likely be ancient (similar to earth life), but when discovered it would still be new to us. In the case of synthetic organic life or life-like machines, humans will have invented life that did not exist before. There are reasons to believe that we are ill-prepared for the challenges, as well as the opportunities, that the emergence of a plurality of lives – lifeforms with independent origins – undoubtedly will create. The emergence of a plurality of lives will have profound effects on a wide range of issues that all depend on how we look at life, including how to frame research questions in chemistry, biology and astrobiology via legal and political questions, to philosophical and theological perspectives.

The goals of this collection are to:

1. Identify which scientific, societal, ethical, conceptual and/or existential questions, challenges and opportunities will arise in connection with the emergence of a plurality of lives; that is, extraterrestrial life, synthetic life, artificial life, and machines with properties that were previously only found in biological life.

2. Explore how we can and should deal with these questions, challenges and opportunities.

Sub-topics of interest include, but are not limited to;

• Novel ideas in the intersection of synthetic biology and AI/robotics.
• Novel ideas in the intersection of synthetic biology and astrobiology.
• Novel ideas in the intersection of AI/robotics and astrobiology.
• Novel ideas in the intersection of synthetic biology and the origin of life.
• Historical, societal, ethical, existential and conceptual perspectives on synthetic biology, including but not limited to: whether synthetic biology can be argued to be morally impermissible, historical and literary perspectives on humans as creators of (in)human life, and whether a second origin of life will cause a re-evaluation of the value of life.
• Historical, societal, ethical, existential and conceptual perspectives on astrobiology, including but not limited to: historical concepts of extraterrestrial life, what the messages we broadcast into space say about contemporary human society, and the inferential challenges associated with the search for biosignatures on other planets.
• Historical, societal, ethical, existential and conceptual perspectives on living and life-imitating machines. including but not limited to: whether intelligent machines should have similar legal and moral status to living organisms, how responsibility for the actions of intelligent machines should be allocated, and how human acceptance of intelligent machines is shaped by their appearance.
• Interdisciplinary research on the origin of life, including but not limited to: laboratory and field research into abiogenesis, chemical and combinatorial pathways from nonliving matter to protocells to living microbial communities, the boundary between the physics of self-assembly and selection and the origin of living systems.

Instructions to authors: Maximum length 10 000 words, but shorter contributions are welcome. Original research, review articles, and opinion/perspectives articles are all of interest.


Keywords: Plurality, Astrobiology, Synthetic Life, Organic Life, Artificial Intelligence, Extraterrestrial Life


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Research groups around the world are currently busy trying to invent new life in the laboratory, or looking for extraterrestrial life. In the case of astrobiology, any newly discovered life would likely be ancient (similar to earth life), but when discovered it would still be new to us. In the case of synthetic organic life or life-like machines, humans will have invented life that did not exist before. There are reasons to believe that we are ill-prepared for the challenges, as well as the opportunities, that the emergence of a plurality of lives – lifeforms with independent origins – undoubtedly will create. The emergence of a plurality of lives will have profound effects on a wide range of issues that all depend on how we look at life, including how to frame research questions in chemistry, biology and astrobiology via legal and political questions, to philosophical and theological perspectives.

The goals of this collection are to:

1. Identify which scientific, societal, ethical, conceptual and/or existential questions, challenges and opportunities will arise in connection with the emergence of a plurality of lives; that is, extraterrestrial life, synthetic life, artificial life, and machines with properties that were previously only found in biological life.

2. Explore how we can and should deal with these questions, challenges and opportunities.

Sub-topics of interest include, but are not limited to;

• Novel ideas in the intersection of synthetic biology and AI/robotics.
• Novel ideas in the intersection of synthetic biology and astrobiology.
• Novel ideas in the intersection of AI/robotics and astrobiology.
• Novel ideas in the intersection of synthetic biology and the origin of life.
• Historical, societal, ethical, existential and conceptual perspectives on synthetic biology, including but not limited to: whether synthetic biology can be argued to be morally impermissible, historical and literary perspectives on humans as creators of (in)human life, and whether a second origin of life will cause a re-evaluation of the value of life.
• Historical, societal, ethical, existential and conceptual perspectives on astrobiology, including but not limited to: historical concepts of extraterrestrial life, what the messages we broadcast into space say about contemporary human society, and the inferential challenges associated with the search for biosignatures on other planets.
• Historical, societal, ethical, existential and conceptual perspectives on living and life-imitating machines. including but not limited to: whether intelligent machines should have similar legal and moral status to living organisms, how responsibility for the actions of intelligent machines should be allocated, and how human acceptance of intelligent machines is shaped by their appearance.
• Interdisciplinary research on the origin of life, including but not limited to: laboratory and field research into abiogenesis, chemical and combinatorial pathways from nonliving matter to protocells to living microbial communities, the boundary between the physics of self-assembly and selection and the origin of living systems.

Instructions to authors: Maximum length 10 000 words, but shorter contributions are welcome. Original research, review articles, and opinion/perspectives articles are all of interest.


Keywords: Plurality, Astrobiology, Synthetic Life, Organic Life, Artificial Intelligence, Extraterrestrial Life


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 April 2021 Manuscript
31 May 2021 Manuscript Extension

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 April 2021 Manuscript
31 May 2021 Manuscript Extension

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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