Günter Wächtershäuser (born 1938 in Gießen), a German chemist turned patent lawyer, is mainly known for his work on the origin of life, and in particular his iron-sulfur world theory, a theory that life on Earth had hydrothermal origins. The theory is consistent with the hypothesis that life originated near seafloor hydrothermal vents.
Wächtershäuser, a chemist by training, has been an international patent lawyer in Munich since 1970. He has published numerous articles in organic chemistry, genetic engineering and patent law, and has made contributions to evolutionary theory concerning the origins of perception and cognition, and the origin of life.
One of the key ideas advanced by Wächtershäuser is that an early form of metabolism predated genetics. Metabolism here means a cycle of chemical reactions that produce energy in a form that can be harnessed by other processes. The idea is that once a primitive metabolic cycle was established, it began to produce ever more complex compounds. His model is known as the iron-sulfur world theory by analogy with the RNA world hypothesis.
In 1993 Wächtershäuser received the annual award of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and the following year he was made an honorary professor at the University of Regensburg. In 1999 Wächtershäuser received the Bonn Chemistry Award and in 2008 he was made an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Origin of Life: Life as We Don't Know It. Science 289, 2000, 1307–1308, online.
- Evolution of the First Metabolic Cycles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 87, 1990, 200–204 .
- The origin of life and its methodological challenge. J Theor Biol 187, 1997, 483–494.