Leslie Orgel

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Leslie Eleazer Orgel
Born (1927-01-12)12 January 1927
London, England
Died 27 October 2007(2007-10-27) (aged 80)
San Diego, California
Nationality Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British
Fields Chemistry
Institutions University of Oxford
University of Cambridge
Alma mater University of Oxford
California Institute of Technology
University of Chicago
Known for Orgel diagram
Origin of life
Error catastrophe theory of aging
Notable awards Fellow of the Royal Society[1]

Leslie Eleazer Orgel FRS[1] (12 January 1927 – 27 October 2007) was a British chemist. He is known for his theories on the origin of life, as well as his error catastrophe theory of aging, formulated in 1963 and ever since experimentally refuted.[2]


Born in London, England, Orgel received his Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry with first class honours from the University of Oxford in 1949. In 1950 he was elected a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford and in 1951 was awarded his Ph.D in chemistry at Oxford.

Orgel started his career as a theoretical inorganic chemist and continued his studies in this field at Oxford, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago.

Together with Sydney Brenner, Jack Dunitz, Dorothy Hodgkin, and Beryl M. Oughton he was one of the first people in April 1953 to see the model of the structure of DNA, constructed by Francis Crick and James Watson, at the time he and the other scientists were working at Oxford University's Chemistry Department. According to the late Dr. Beryl Oughton, later Rimmer, they all travelled together in two cars once Dorothy Hodgkin announced to them that they were off to Cambridge to see the model of the structure of DNA. All were impressed by the new DNA model, especially Brenner who subsequently worked with Crick; Orgel himself also worked with Crick at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.[3]

In 1955 he joined the chemistry department at Cambridge University. There he did work in transition metal chemistry, published articles and wrote a textbook entitled Transition Metal Chemistry: Ligand Field Theory (1960).

In 1964, Orgel was appointed Senior Fellow and Research Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, where he directed the Chemical Evolution Laboratory. He was also an adjunct professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, and he was one of five principal investigators in the NASA-sponsored NSCORT program in exobiology. Orgel also participated in NASA's Viking Mars Lander Program as a member of the Molecular Analysis Team that designed the gas chromatography mass spectrometer instrument that robots took to the planet Mars.

Orgel’s lab came across an economical way to make cytarabine, a compound that is one of today’s most commonly used anti-cancer agents.

During the 1970s, Orgel suggested reconsidering the Panspermia hypothesis, according to which the earliest forms of life on earth did not originate here, but arrived from outer space with meteorites.

Together with Stanley Miller, Orgel also suggested that peptide nucleic acids - rather than ribonucleic acids - constituted the first pre-biotic systems capable of self-replication on early Earth.

His name is popularly known because of Orgel's rules, credited to him, particularly Orgel's Second Rule: "Evolution is cleverer than you are".

In his book The Origins of Life, Orgel coined the concept of specified complexity, to describe the criterion by which living organisms are distinguished from non-living matter. He published over three hundred articles in his research areas.

Orgel died of cancer on 27 October 2007 at the San Diego Hospice & Palliative Care in San Diego, California.



  • Leslie E. Orgel, An Introduction to Transition-Metal Chemistry. The Ligand Field Theory, 1961
  • Leslie E. Orgel, The Origins of Life: Molecules and Natural Selection, 1973
  • Leslie E. Orgel and Stanley L. Miller, The Origins of Life on the Earth, 1974


  1. ^ a b Dunitz, J. D.; Joyce, G. F. (2013). "Leslie Eleazer Orgel. 12 January 1927 -- 27 October 2007". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2013.0002. 
  2. ^ Michael R. Rose (1991). Evolutionary Biology of Aging. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 147–152. 
  3. ^ Olby, Robert, Francis Crick: Hunter of Life's Secrets, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2009, Chapter 10, p. 181 ISBN 978-0-87969-798-3

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