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Origins of Life on Earth & Beyond --New Harvard Discoveries

All (1)Two of the world's preeminent scientists, Harvard astronomer Dimitar Sasselov and Jack Szostak, a Nobel Prize-winning professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, co-founded the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative --an interdisciplinary center unlike any other in the world. It studies everything from planet formation and detection to the origin and early evolution of life.

The focus of Szostak's lab is to understand how life, which depends on self-replication and Darwinian evolution, emerges from chemistry. For decades, scientists have tried to understand the basics of life by taking existing life and attempting to trace it back to its origins. But their experiments all failed. In the past decade, Origins researchers began to try building it from scratch.

A giant step toward solving this puzzle of how life was started on Earth was taken in the 1980's with the  Nobel Prize–winning discovery by Tom Cech and Sidney Altman that RNA, the sister molecule of DNA, can catalyze certain chemical reactions inside cells, a job previously thought to be the exclusive domain of proteins. Until their discovery, RNA was thought to have just one function: storing the genetic information cells need to build proteins.

This new revelation about RNA's dual role suggested to some scientists, including Harvard's Szostak, that RNA likely existed long before DNA or proteins because it might be able to catalyze its own reproduction. Their discovery made it easier to think about how life began, Szostak says. "They inspired me to try to think of ways to make RNAs in the lab that could catalyze their own replication."

Szostak and his team is working to recreate a hypothetical model of this process in the laboratory. By building simple cell-like structures in a test tube, they are attempting to establish a plausible path that led primitive cells to emerge from simple chemicals. Ultimately, Szostak hopes to answer fundamental questions about evolution's earliest steps.

Building on earlier work by other scientists, Szostak and colleagues began experimenting with a clay mixture common on early Earth called montmorillonite, which was found to catalyze the chemical reactions needed to make RNA.

So, did life originally spring from clay as some creation myths assert? Not necessarily, but it does provide a possible mechanism for explaining how life initially arose from nonliving molecules. Szostak's team at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital showed that the presence of clay aids naturally occurring reactions that result in the formation of fatty sacks called vesicles, similar to what scientists expect the first living cells to have looked like. Further, the clay helps RNA form. The RNA can stick to the clay and move with it into the vesicles. This provides a method for RNA's critical genetic information to move inside a primitive cell.

"It's exciting because we know that a particular clay mineral helps with the assembly of RNA," Szostak said. "There certainly would have been lots of environments on early Earth with clay minerals. It's something that forms relatively easily as rocks weather."

The researchers also found that the clay expedited the process by which fatty acids form vesicles that could serve as cell membranes. When RNA and fatty acids were mixed with the montmorillonite, the clay seemed to help transport the RNA inside the vesicles, forming a cell-like structure. Szostak and his team surmised that a similar process could possibly have led to the creation of the first cell.

Szostak first showed how a simple membrane could form from clay available on the early Earth. More recently, he and others have been searching for a simple series of steps that can explain how primitive genetic material replicated itself.

If they succeed, "then, since we know there are probably hundreds of millions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone, it would make it seem pretty darn likely that there's life in other places out there," he says.

If lab experiments show that the process of turning chemistry into life is extremely complicated or unlikely to have happened, "then it would be possible that maybe life only started here. Maybe there's only life on Earth."

Prof Szostak and the other Origins researchers say they are nowhere near actually creating life, so they don't think their work poses any ethical concerns. Lawrence Krauss, a physicist who leads the Origins Project at Arizona State University, says trying to figure out how the universe came from nothing doesn't tread on religious ground, either - at least no more than Copernicus and Darwin did.

"Many people say it's a religious question, but I've been trying to say it's a scientific one," says Prof Krauss, whose book on the subject, A Universe from Nothing, is due out in January.

"Detecting alien life in the form of an HIV virus in the human patient is not much different than detecting alien life" on another planet, says Steven Benner, a distinguished fellow with the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida, which is searching for alien life forms on Saturn's moon Titan, as well as developing test kits for HIV and hepatitis.

If Sasselov and Shostak succeeed in their goal, maybe one day we "could gaze at the sky and know that a place somewhat like home exists around "THAT" star, where life might be gaining a toehold somewhere along the long and precarious evolutionary process that led, on Earth, to humankind. And perhaps it is staring back at us!"

The Daily Galaxy via origins.harvard.edu/ and bbc.co.uk/news

Image credit: Max Planck Institute for Astronomy

Comments

There is the old saying that there is only earth we were created by God Want to know how I see it 3 shows to watch Steve Wilcos...Jerry Springer...Maury Provich...........If this the best God can do"...My Middle Finger Skyward

While, of course, nobody knows how cells first formed, perhaps the most plausible scenario presented to date is that of Martin and Russell in respect of alkaline hydrothermal vents.

On another tack, regarding the kind of question to be addressed by Lawrence Krauss in " A Universe from Nothing", the big picture provided by our observations of nature, including the high degree of directionality therein, can be accommodated within a very broad evolutionary framework that extends well beyond biology. Entirely without recourse to creationist theology or "intelligent design" myths.

This model is very informally sketched out in my latest book: "The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?" (free download in e-book formats from the "Unusual Perspectives" website)

lawrence
Your statement is a pure bliss of ignorance on the subject. Free will is the answer to your hidden question. As you practically stated God is real but you're failing to be satisfied by creation.. Your problem is you think you understand more then you actually do. And the bible never said God created only Earth.. that is just the conclusion you jumped to.

At first I would compliment you on drafting such a sparkling portion of write-up.
You have got some very extraordinary drafting talents that have made your place worth reading.

The creation of basic life is one thing. What is really beyond current human capability to explain; if you analyze human vision (the eye and connexions including)its interpreation of light waves and then the brain.
Of course, you just can´t stop there, when you start visualizing a human body in its quantum form/state. Just for a starter. Ahh?


First Let’s Learn What Life And Genes Are:

(Extend evolution way down to genes, life’s base ORGANISMS. Culture modifies genetics, not vice versa...)

Pavlov’s Smile: RNAs Are Earth’s Primal Organisms
Culture>genes>addiction (2 July 2009)
http://universe-life.com/2011/09/24/pavlovs-smile/

Why Pavlov smiled in 2008?

Pavlov demonstrated effecting placebo phenomena in multi celled organisms by manipulation of their drives-reactions. Now placebo and imagination phenomena are demonstrated also in Earth’s smallest, base organisms, in the genes and genomes of multi-celled organisms, in our primal 1st stratum and 2nd stratum base organisms.
A very good reason to smile.
Now an interesting chain is exposed to our view, the Genes-Virtual Reality Chain, a most intriguing cultural evolution chain extending from the genesis of our genes to nowadays, throughout life, a virtual reality existence, and by virtual reality phenomena, exploitations and manipulations.

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)
http://universe-life.com

From “Life Genesis From Aromaticity/H-Bonding”
http://universe-life.com/2011/09/30/earthlife-genesis-from-aromaticityh-bonding/
Natural selection is E (energy) temporarily constrained in an m (mass) format.
Natural selection is a universal ubiquitous trait of ALL mass spin formats, inanimate and animate.
Life began/evolved on Earth with the natural selection of inanimate RNA, then of some RNA nucleotides, then arriving at the ultimate mode of natural selection, self-replication.
Dov

New Era For Science Including Genomics ???

From: Dov Henis
Sent: Friday, April 13, 2012 10:43 PM
To: genome biologists
Subject: A new era for science including genomics ??? Please examine carefully…

Yesterday, SN , after many years of refusing my similar postings, SN posted my following statement-comment:

http://www.sciencenews.org/index/generic/activity/view/id/339659/title/Fruit_fly_biorhythms_differ_indoors_and_out
Biorhythms Schmiorythms
Circadian Schmircadian sleep origin?

Life sleeps because RNAs genesized, evolved from inanimate nucleotides into self-replicating nucleotides, organisms, of course long before metabolism evolved. They were then active ONLY during sunlight hours. Thus sleep is inherent for RNAs, even though, being ORGANISMS, they later adapted to when/extent sleep times are feasible just as we adapt to jetlag or night work time.

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)
Apr. 12, 2012 at 9:10am
===========================

From: Dov Henis
Sent: Saturday, April 14, 2012 9:05 AM
To: genome biologists
Subject: FW: A new era for science including genomics ??? Please examine carefully…

Unbelievable?! Here’s another one…

From: Dov Henis
Sent: Sunday, April 08, 2012 9:06 PM
To: ‘editors@sciencenews.org’
Subject: On Pavlov and genes…

Fatty Diet Leads To Fat-Loving Brain Cells
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/339458/title/Fatty_diet_leads_to_fat-loving_brain_cells

Learn from Pavlov:
Fatty diet lead to fat-loving RNA-nucleotides genes, Earthlife base primal ORGANISMS.
Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)
http://universe-life.com/2011/12/22/rnas-are-earths-primal-organisms/

===================

Since the above two statements are basis for the following statement, may it also soon pass the SN “peer review”… ?!

USA Science? Re-Comprehend Origins And Essence

• Higgs Particle? Dark Energy/Matter? Epigenetics? All YOK!
• Earth-life is just another, self-replicating, mass format.
• All mass formats follow natural selection, i.e. intake of energy or their energy taken in by other mass formats.
• Evolution Is The Quantum Mechanics Of Natural Selection.
• Quantum mechanics are mechanisms, possible or probable or actual mechanisms of natural selection.
• Life’s Evolution is the quantum mechanics of biology.
• Every evolution, of all disciplines, is the quantum mechanics of the discipline’s natural selection.

See:
Update Concepts-Comprehension…
http://universe-life.com/2011/12/13/21st-century-science-whence-and-whither/
Earth life genesis from aromaticity-H bonding
http://universe-life.com/2011/09/30/earthlife-genesis-from-aromaticityh-bonding/
Universe-Energy-Mass-Life Compilation
http://universe-life.com/2012/02/03/universe-energy-mass-life-compilation/
Seed of human-chimp genome diversity
http://universe-life.com/2011/07/10/seed-of-human-chimp-genomes-diversity/

============

Respectfully,
Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

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