Ionising radiation is often maligned in astrobiological discussions. Radiation from sources such as cosmic rays or decay of radionuclides is often a harmful influence on life, inducing mutations and inactivating cells. The collection of 25 papers gathered in The Role of Radiation in the Origin and Evolution of Life, however, takes a broader perspective on the issue and explains many of the ways that radiation can have a beneficial effect.
The book is the result of an international conference held in 1998 near Osaka, Japan. It is split into three sections which in turn deal with the fundamentals of radiation, extraterrestrial and terrestrial chemical evolution, and the origin of homochirality. The research topics represented in this collection are diverse, and include the action of ultraviolet and particle radiation on planetary ices, oceans, atmospheres and biospheres.
Papers of particular interest include the radiosynthesis of tholins on Titan, the production of prebiotic molecules by radioactive elements on the early Earth, and the debate surrounding with irradiation can explain the stereoselection of one enantiomer over another in the developing terrestrial biology (e.g. L-amino acids and D-sugars).
This collection of papers is broad-ranging, and worth a read for anyone with an interest in the field of radiation and the origins of life on Earth and beyond.
Reviewed by: Lewis Dartnell, University College London