"Origins of Life in a Lab": From Amino Acids to Apes with iPods
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July 16, 2009

"Origins of Life in a Lab": From Amino Acids to Apes with iPods

6a00d8341bf7f753ef01156fa20db4970c-320wi For over fifty years we've been figuring out life's starting point, finding how a planet-sized chemical tank turned into tigers, sharks and expressways (but not at the same place, at least until we get Michael Bay to accept our screenplay.)  It all started in 1953, when one man made primordial soup in a jar - and we've been improving on the recipe ever since.

Stanly Miller outperformed every student before and since, mixing up the Cocktail of Life at the age of twenty-three.  He filled a glass jar with water, ammonia, methane and hydrogen, started it circulating and blasted it with electricity until it got interesting.  Protip: if any part of your drink-mixing procedure includes "something to simulate lightning strikes", you're going to see some cool stuff - in this case half of all the amino acids required to make everything alive.  Not bad for a PhD.

Miller's work was energetically verified by professors at McMaster University, using supercomputer simulations to work out the thermodynamic odds of those amino acids combining even without scientists poking them with a stick: their results showed that the starter set of amino acids were indeed thermodynamically favored, a scrabble-breaking way of saying "Physics will make this happen."  And once you have that base set, you can combine to get the rest.

There are still one or two (billion years of) steps between amino acids and apes with Apple iPods, but we've got those as well.  Studies have shown in exhaustive detail how amino acids combine to create larger units called nucleotides.  These posed the ultimate jigsaw puzzle: once they come together into RNA, we've seen how it can evolve and improve (and we do mean SEEN: the Scripps Institute rigged up RNA replicators and watched them evolve before their eyes) and eventually arrive at DNA, but we didn't know how the darn things made RNA to begin with.

Emphasis on "didn't" - University of Manchester scientists decided to solve the problem, and please note that when U of M decides on something they don't mess around: they spent a full ten years smashing together the pre-life pieces until they eventually fit together.  Just as they would have done in early Earth's oceans, which were a couple of orders of magnitude bigger than a beaker and for whom ten years is barely a blink.

So what do you do when you know how it works?  Easy - make a better version!

We're working on our own version, with the Toyama School of Pharmaceutical Sciences engineering entirely artificial DNA based on synthetic basepairs.  The artificial genes are suitable for use in genetic engineering, and have been shown to be more stable, and can even resist DNAase chemicals which dissolve human DNA.

Or as the inevitable human-dissolving-juice-spraying-mutants will call it, "DNA 1.0"

The Primordial Primordial Soup

Comments

Those who insist it's astronomically unlikely and some intelligent 'force' must be responsible, need to see this...

(Which doesn't mean an 'intelligent force' doesn't exist but 'it' seems to have put the probability for life in the very structure of the Universe [that is, the laws of physics] rather than stepping in and acting directly...)

This just means that man is the intelligent force slapping "god" in the face.

and yet it takes an intelligent lifeform to conduct these experiments and simulate these environments in which said amino acids can be made...way to think outside the box guys....

You guys are desparate. All that you have proven is that it requires intelligence to even get simple amino acids.

And to get to the next level, it took scientists at the Scripps Institute and University of Manchester, with years of training and state of the art equipment to "rigged up RNA replicators" and "eventually arrive at DNA".

But after all of this, they still have not created a single living cell.

The proof of God is still - Life. Deal with it. Oh, by the way, you will meet Him and He want to talk to you about what you've been up to.

"The proof of God is still - Life. Deal with it. Oh, by the way, you will meet Him and He want to talk to you about what you've been up to."

Yes i'll get right on believing a book that was written over 2000 years ago by a bunch of individuals that probably used a quarter of there intelligence that is used today. Sounds very bright I'll get right on that one buddy!

Here is a quote about Miller's experiment from the book, Life. How did it get here by Evolution or Creation?

"8 In 1953 Stanley Miller passed an electric spark through an “atmosphere” of hydrogen, methane, ammonia and water vapor. This produced some of the many amino acids that exist and that are the building blocks of proteins. However, he got just 4 of the 20 amino acids needed for life to exist. More than 30 years later, scientists were still unable experimentally to produce all the 20 necessary amino acids under conditions that could be considered plausible.

9 Miller assumed that earth’s primitive atmosphere was similar to the one in his experimental flask. Why? Because, as he and a co-worker later said: “The synthesis of compounds of biological interest takes place only under reducing [no free oxygen in the atmosphere] conditions.”6 Yet other evolutionists theorize that oxygen was present. The dilemma this creates for evolution is expressed by Hitching: “With oxygen in the air, the first amino acid would never have got started; without oxygen, it would have been wiped out by cosmic rays.”7

10 The fact is, any attempt to establish the nature of earth’s primitive atmosphere can only be based on guesswork or assumption. No one knows for sure what it was like."

"But after all of this, they still have not created a single living cell."

I'm just going to go out on a limb and assume you're one of the chaps that still believes abiogenesis states that cells simply "spontaneously formed", and didn't (as every single biologist and scientists believes) go through several steps before that point.

Of course we can't create cells; they're incredibly complex. However, that does not mean that we won't be able to. The folks at Harvard are incredibly close to creating protocells/wet synthetic life. Expect that within 3 to 10 years.

Yet there's a grander point to be made here. Simply because we create something in a lab to OBSERVE it, does not mean that it does not, or has not, happened in nature. We create mini black holes with particle accelerators. Do black holes happen without the intervention of man? Of course they do.

You and others of your ilk make the same tired arguments about god and the origin of life without ever reading beyond the letters of your own keyboards.

"You guys are desparate. All that you have proven is that it requires intelligence to even get simple amino acids."

Actually, they simply proved that amino acids could form in a hypothesized pre-life environmental state. Way to miss that one completely.

it's really rather simple: scientists merely set up the conditions theorized to have been present prior to the onset of biological life, and then let those conditions create the molecules upon which every cell in your body is founded upon.

As for life being an argument FOR god - it's quite the opposite. If god is all powerful, he could make a stone live. he could make a lump of clay exibit all the signs of life. Theres simply no need for such a being to go to such extreme lengths to create living creatures.

"You guys are desparate. All that you have proven is that it requires intelligence to even get simple amino acids."

What exactly are we 'desperate'for? Anywaaayyyssss ... by the way, I want to meet your god so I can give him a facial with my own amino acids.

I have an idea - apart from yah - yahing over Creation vs Evolution here -

Could the Stanley Miller experiment be used to create terrestrial environments on, say, Mars ( There have been claims that yonder Red Planet could be terraformed in roughly 50 years. Google it ) ? Or simply to create habitable areas under domes or in caverns on the Moon or the asteroids in future " at a substantially accelerated rate ", to paraphrase Dr. Carol Marcus from Star Trek II ?

That'd be something to stick around till my early hundreds to see !!

I thought the miller experiment was wrong because it used a reducing atmosphere, but it should have been an oxidized atmosphere.


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