Systems consisting of mineral surfaces, water, salts and organic molecules are considered to be plausible models of early Earth's prebiotic environments. The probable involvement of clays, highly soluble minerals, sulfides and other minerals at the beginning of life have spurred a number of experimental studies to investigate organic molecule adsorption, polymerization and catalytic reactions of relevance to prebiotic chemistry. This article reviews current ideas in how life originated, summarises experimental results and presents some of the existing challenges that still beset the field of the origins of life.

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