All life is cellular, but the origins of cellularity remain unknown. Scientists have discovered that simple organic compounds like glycolic and lactic acid polymerize and self-assemble into cell-sized droplets when dried and rewetted, as might have happened along primitive beaches and drying puddles. These cell-like compartments can trap and concentrate biomolecules, and can merge and separate, forming versatile and heterogeneous cell-like containers possibly critical for the origin of life.