The origin of life challenge: Searching for how life began

June 20, 2012 By Nola Taylor Redd,
Considered the blueprint of life, DNA is found in all living cells. Scientists think it was preceded by RNA, which may have played a role in the development of the first life on Earth. Credit: Illustration by Dr. Frank Cucinotta, NASA/Johnson Space Center, and Prem Saganti, Lockheed Martin

In 2011, retired chemist and entrepreneur Harry Lonsdale announced his plans to fund research on how life originally formed. Of the 76 proposals submitted to his Origin of Life Challenge, Lonsdale and his team of experts selected three to fund for at least the next year, with the potential to continue financial support in the future.

How first developed is a poorly-understood process. Even today, scientists have attempted to determine its origins using a variety of methods.

Chris McKay, who served as a to help sort through the proposals, pointed out that the submitted proposals spanned a wide variety of potential research.

"The scientific study of the origin of life is still early enough that there's not even a on how to approach the problem," McKay said.

"That's kind of exciting, but also kind of intimidating, because we don't know what's going to be the right answer."

Privately funding research

Trained as a , Lonsdale became fascinated by the study of origin of life after retiring young, ultimately deciding that he had the resources to contribute to the answer of this puzzling question. He assembled a team of experts in the field, scientists recommended by their , to review the proposals that poured in.

"I was very impressed by his decision to use some of his private money to fund scientific research on the origin of life," McKay said. "I figured the least I could do was lend my expertise to that cause."

The unpaid team met in San Diego to study the entries and make suggestions about those that seemed most qualified.

"I was just looking for fresh ideas with scientific merit that could be tested," Lonsdale said.

Though not the expressed intention, all three proposals wound up examining some aspect of the RNA world. RNA is thought to be the to DNA, at one time not only carrying but also acting as a .

The winning selection, which received a $50,000 prize as well as a one-year grant to pursue their research, were British chemists John Sutherland at the Medical Research Council Laboratory in Molecular Biology in Cambridge and Matthew Downer at University College, London. They intend to study the prebiotic soup in which RNA may have originally formed, hoping to replicate the process.

According to Sutherland, he and Downer are "privileged and eager to use Harry's money to fund a fresh assault on the origins of life problem."

Some scientists believe that life may have arisen on Mars and traveled to Earth by means of a meteorite. However, even if life arose independently on two planetary bodies, the red planet may still provide more clues than Earth because its surface has changed far less over the last four billion years. Credit: NASA/JSC/Stanford University

A second one-year grant was awarded to a Canadian-American team exploring how a complex pool of short RNAs, nucleotides, and inorganic material might become self-replicating RNA. The team, which includes Niles Lehman of Portland State University in Oregon, Peter Unrau of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and Paul Higgs of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, will construct a laboratory system to resemble primordial Earth. Instead of focusing on only a single class of enzymes, they intend to watch for the discovery and use of any or all of them.

A third grant was extended for a single year to Wenonah Vercoutere of NASA Ames Research Center in California and David Deamer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who will develop and test a lab simulation of volcanic hot springs and the steps that may have led to the formation of RNA.

Deamer, who also served on the referee committee, removed himself from the deliberation process when his proposal was being discussed.

Although each grant is only for a year, Lonsdale expressed his willingness to extend them as long as progress is being made.

"I'm prepared to spend $2 million over the next five to seven year period," he said.

If one of the groups reaches a dead end, Lonsdale may reopen the challenge and collect other proposals.

Each team expressed their admiration for Lonsdale's vision, and their appreciation of his support.

Most of the funding for research in the United States on the comes from NASA, which Lonsdale says may lead to a bias that life began off-planet. There are very little international or multinational opportunities.

According to McKay, private funding allows scientists to do things that "don't fit the mold so readily," with the potential to look at research "off the beaten track."

"Private funding could bring innovation that may be harder to find in public funding."

Meteorites contain a large variety of nucleobases, an essential building block of DNA. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith

The Search for Life

Figuring out how life first started may seem like it should be simple—after all, life is everywhere on Earth. But the search is really far more complicated.

For one thing, scientists can't actually work backward. McKay explained that Darwinian evolution, the dominant process on the planet, involves self-replication, a process only found in living things, and thus can't be responsible for the original creation of life.

The other problem is that life itself has destroyed the evidence. As the planet has evolved over the years, living creatures have significantly changed their environments.

"What led to life has been lost in the long stretch of eons," McKay said. "It's been trampled on by small animals and children."

Finding clues on the active Earth remains a challenge, which is why McKay is so enamored of searching on more stagnant planets. Mars, for instance, has changed very little over the last four billion years, so if life evolved there, evidence of its origin might still be present.

Some scientists consider the idea that life may have begun on another planet and been carried to Earth by a meteorite. Even if that's the case, however, McKay noted that all three research projects selected by the challenge should still be able to replicate the process.

"If life started as RNA world, somewhere, somehow, the molecules making up RNA had to be reproduced."

The process should be the same no matter where life first began.

But Lonsdale thinks that such seeding would be a serious challenge, given the exposure to cold and radiation life traveling between planets would face.

"I'm putting my bets on planet Earth," he said.

Explore further: Chemists see first building blocks to life on Earth

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3.6 / 5 (5) Jun 20, 2012
I have looked forward to this! (The application deadline was years end or so.) Very encouraging that it will be multiple efforts and likely sustained.

The RNA world is dead solid by now, I would say. [Student of astrobiology.] An RNA core in transcription and translation, the ability of RNA enzymes and the necessity of proteins for RNA to DNA conversion is traditional evidence. Recently added is the whole-genome evidence from preserved protein folds. The 20 % first folds stem from an RNA-protein world, the next 20 % is from the DNA LUCA and only later comes domain-related splits. ["The evolution and functional repertoire of translation proteins following the origin of life", Goldman et al, Biol Direct, 2010.] Similarly combining metabolic protein and flux analysis tells of a robust and regulatory non-demanding core metabolism before the split, testing a signature of an RNA world. ["The emergence and early evolution of biological carbon-fixation", Braakman et al, PLoS Comp Bil, 2012.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2012
The latest find, that iron in anoxic conditions that existed before the atmosphere oxygenation amps up RNA emzymatic ability at least an order of magnitude, hints that RNA was selected preferentially. Interestingly it could mean that, since iron is ubiqiutous and rock-forming, that RNA (and then likely DNA) is the preferred path on terrestrials.

Unfortunately that work came too late to enter the competition, I believe. The researchers want to extend it, but certainly some of the promising generic RNA programmes here can adopt it.

I'll pitch in with Lonsdale on Earth as most likely origin of the biosphere. Mars would have formed in ~ 3 million year as opposed to Earth ~ 30 million years, and chemical to biological evolution may take 10 thousand to 100 million years, more likely in the lower end of the range. But impact spread, some 300 kg Mars to Earth/year, is if often occuring so not likely carrying viable life. Earth should have managed to evolve life before Mars seeded it.
5 / 5 (4) Jun 20, 2012

In other news, I'm still absolutely thrilled to live in this singularly unique moment in our history where we answering this kind of question :D
5 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2012

In other news, I'm still absolutely thrilled to live in this singularly unique moment in our history where we answering this kind of question :D

Easy dude....were only asking the question at this stage, the problem is that we have to guess the answer and then test it to see if we are correct. Every protien in the chain is a different variable, every 100th of a degree celcius in the soup and every external stimulous that could have been the potential catalyst. Millions of potential variables to play around with.....
I'll also pitch in with Lonsdale on earth as the planet of origin.
1 / 5 (8) Jun 20, 2012
The biggest obstacle to creating life from inanimate matter is the cell membrane. What's fascinating is that conventional theories for the cell membrane are also plagued by a long history of controversy, as well. The notion that pumps and channels are shuttling ions in and out of the cell is arguably a redundant concept, for cell biologists already admit that the cell contents are a gel. Experiments demonstrate, without a doubt, that cells can survive the puncturing of the cell wall. This is a critical observation, for it means that textbooks which treat the cell as though it is a fluid which would otherwise "spill out" were it not for the cell membrane are wrong. The key here is to realize that gels *naturally* exhibit ionic gradients. Pumps and channels are not necessary to maintain these gradients, and gels do it without any energy input.

Fix this mistake in the cell biology textbooks, and the biggest impediment to forming life from inanimate matter is removed.
1 / 5 (7) Jun 20, 2012
For more information on the pumps and channels debate, see Gerald Pollack's Gels, Cells and the Engines of Life.

A summary of the book ...

Putting the Cell Biology Establishment on the Stand

The politics of the sodium pump hypothesis ...

Doubts About the Sodium-Potassium Pump Are Not Permissible in Modern Bioscience

There are mistakes in the textbooks. Fix them, and many wicked problems become simpler ...
1 / 5 (6) Jun 20, 2012
An explanation of what a gel is ...

Towards a Phenomenological Definition of the Term 'Gel'

Once the sodium pump hypothesis is eliminated, then it becomes much easier to explain the origin of life ...

"Hypothesis: the origin of life in a hydrogel environment"
(this paper is now behind a paywall, unfortunately)

Then, all that is missing is a suitable environment: we need an environment which lacks days nights and seasons. We need complete temperature stability at around 72 F. And we need a source of water. Wal Thornhill proposes that these conditions could in theory exist for a planet, if it was orbiting a brown dwarf within the brown dwarf's illuminated envelope. He mentions the idea here ...

But, to fully grasp the Electric Universe requires quite a bit of reading. Many people give up before they understand it.
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 21, 2012
they give up after realizing its nonsense......
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 21, 2012
The biggest obstacle to creating life from inanimate matter is the cell membrane...blah...blah...Plasma Universe...blah...blah -AlfTard

Primitive membranes are easily and spontaneously formed from lipids in oceans. Here's a reference that you might understand (Lipids - Cell Biology for Kids):

Also the clay vesicle route has potential:

But, I don't expect you to learn anything.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2012
Youtube commenting is everywhere now, from creationists to "electric " spreading their woo. Too bad.

Yes, the spontaneous organization of micelles and even membranes by many organics was the very first inroad to observing and testing abiogenesis (Oparin et al). Before even it was realized that many natural processes produce organics and even enzymatic components (Miller), solving the problem of whether there was such a process in the first place.

Given this, the chemiosmosis hypothesis for ATP synthesis showed how anything restricting redox processes even minutely (inorganic pockets, membranes and yes, even gels) sets up a cellular metabolic driver. [ http://en.wikiped...iosmosis ] Mitchell in 1961 was right after Miller in the 1950's I think.

This is tested.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 21, 2012
I would say that there is a very clear, if possibly informal, tested character state phylogeny between chemical evolution of ATP & RNA nucleotides which can be produced at alkaline vents over subducting plates and the RNA world. All the principle problems of abiogenesis has been solved, except maybe speed of early enzymes (but see the new iron-RNA results) and catalytic closure (but see the new iron-RNA results).

Now the question is if astrobiology (geochemistry of habitables and frequency of oxygenated inhabited), biology (biological evolution) and chemistry (chemical evolution) can come together to eliminate some of the very many paths to life that are supportable at the moment.

This is the real obstacle, too many theorized and partly untested ways, not coming up with more pathways. We know that life evolved very quickly and is expected to evolve thus in generic pathways. Meaning there is no deterministic obstacle for abiogenesis attempts to evolve into biology.
1 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2012
The biggest obstacle to answering the most perplexing problems in science today is the widespread belief that there are no mistakes in the textbooks. Our educational institutions have created an extremely efficient collective organism, but the dirty secret is that our system of standardized testing is encouraging students to memorize the materials. Critical thinking is a process of questioning assumptions. So, where you see stuff like this ...

> they give up after realizing its nonsense......

... and this ...

> The biggest obstacle to creating life from inanimate matter is
> the cell membrane...blah...blah...Plasma Universe...blah...blah
> -AlfTard

... be aware that you are your own worst enemy. Specialists are not (currently) trained to question the framework that they are memorizing (and with predictable results). This faith-based approach to science is devastating our nation's economic engine, and dashing hopes that we could become some sort of "knowledge economy".
1 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2012
From http://blogs.kqed...o-learn/


Semester after semester, the class average on his exams never got above about 40 percent.

And I noted that the reason for that was that his examination questions were mostly qualitative, requiring understanding of the concepts, says Hestenes.

Most professors didnt test for this kind of understanding; students just had to solve problems to pass the exams.

This observation prompted a series of conversations between Hestenes and his colleague about the difference between being able to solve problems and really understanding the concepts behind those problems. They had a sneaking suspicion students were just learning the problem-solving part and never really getting the concepts.


Hestenes and one of his graduate students, Ibrahim Halloun, decided to test this theory by coming up with a way to probe students conceptual understanding of physics.

1 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2012
Hestenes and Halloun gave their test to about 1,000 students in introductory physics courses taught by seven different instructors at two different schools.

Each class was taught in a traditional lecture mode, though the instructors had different styles. One did a lot of elaborate demonstrations. One emphasized problem-solving. Another was a theoretical physicist who devoted a lot of time to talking about the conceptual structure of physics.

Students in these seven different classes took the test at the beginning of the semester. Perhaps not surprisingly, they didnt do very well (though many of them had already taken high school physics; Hestenes and Halloun expected them to do better).

The students took the test again at the end of the semester. And they still didnt do very well. Their scores went up by only about 14 percent, meaning that, after an entire semester, they understood only about 14 percent more about the fundamental concepts of physics than they had at the beginning.
1 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2012
[end quote]

If you think that this only applies to physics, then you need to explain the fundamental difference in how we teach biology and physics. We've all seen the textbooks. There is no difference.

You guys have a *major* problem on your hands, and you are completely ignoring it. This is far more serious than some against-the-mainstream critics trying to help you with some creative brainstorming. We are not your most serious problem. Your most serious problem is that you haven't equipped your students with the tools required to solve these complex problems. If you guys just took a few minutes from your otherwise self-confident day, you might read what the creativity researchers have been trying to tell you. Creative problem-solving requires (1) a strong conceptual comprehension; (2) an *interdisciplinary* breadth of knowledge; and (3) an open-minded approach.

By ignoring the root cause of your discipline's problems, you don't stand a chance at solving this problem.
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2012
Oops. "and catalytic closure" is likely not applicable to the RNA world. Mostly a problem for metabolism first theories.

Sigh! More trolling: "science doesn't work". But it does.
1 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2012
Re: "Sigh! More trolling: "science doesn't work". But it does."

The first fix to the problems we see in science is to stop lumping all scientific theory into one big pile. We have to start differentiating the concepts of science in terms of how accessible they are to our senses. Those disciplines which deal with subjects which are remote to our senses are inherently more speculative. Within those speculative disciplines, where we can't see everything that's going on, or understand what we're seeing (as with biology), we are obligated to entertain competing paradigms. Biology is NOT some settled science. The proper place to demonstrate that you understand this is at the inferential step.

Gerald Pollack's book (Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life) describes a controversy in cell biology. He claims that theorists admit that the cell is a gel, but then refuse to apply the principles of gels to solve the problems of cell biology.
1 / 5 (6) Jun 21, 2012
The electrical cosmology theorists propose that astrophysicists readily admit that the universe's fundamental state for matter is the plasma state, but that they refuse to apply their observations of laboratory plasmas to those cosmic plasmas. Do you see a pattern here?

The origin of life is an *interdisciplinary* problem. Yes, we need specialist knowledge. But, the problem is that nobody can know everything. We all need to figure out ways of tapping into each others' knowledge. This doesn't mean turning off our information filters, but it does mean stepping out of our information bubbles. Where you see people trying to convince others to be ignorant with them - as opposed to arguing against claims - that's typically a red flag that the person has not actually invested any time into the competing hypothesis. What those people are doing is breaking the very process which we all rely upon, and which the scientific method depends upon: the sharing of knowledge.

1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2012
From page 11 of Gerald Pollack's book:

"The existence of single ion channels appeared to be confirmed by groundbreaking experiments using the patch-clamp technique. In this technique the tip of a micropipette is positioned on the cell surface. Through suction, a patch of membrane is plucked from the cell and remains stuck onto the micropipette orifice (Fig. 1.3A). A steady bias voltage is placed across the patch, and the resulting current flow through the patch is measured. This current is not continuous; it occurs as a train of discrete pulses. Because the pulses appear to be quantal in size, each pulse is assumed to correspond to the opening of a single ion channel.

This dazzling result has so revolutionized the field of membrane electrophysiology that the originators of the technique, Erwin Neher and Bert Sakmann, were awarded the Nobel Prize. The observation of discrete events would seem to confirm beyond doubt that the ions flow through discrete channels."

1 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2012

"Results from the laboratory of Fred Sachs, on the other hand, make one wonder. Sachs found that when the patch of membrane was replaced by a patch of silicon rubber, the discrete currents did not disappear (Sachs and Qin, 1993); they remained essentially indistinguishable from those measured when the membrane was present (Fig. 1.3B). Even more surprisingly, the silicon rubber sample showed ion-selectivity features essentially the same as the putative membrane channel.

A similar troubling observation was made on polymer samples (Lev et al, 1993). Current flow through synthetic polymer filters was found to be discrete, just as in silicon rubber (Fig. 1.3C). The filters also showed features commonly ascribed to biological channels such as ion selectivity, reversal potential, and gating. Yet, the sample was devoid of any protein or lipid."

[end quote]

That's pages 11-13. At this point of the analysis, Pollack is barely even getting started.
1 / 5 (6) Jun 21, 2012
The writing is on the wall here: Polymers are gels. If the polymers are already solving one of the most fundamental problems in cell biology, before cell biologists even get a chance to conceive of ways to unnecessarily expend additional energy, then we have a striking investigative lead here on how to proceed with creating life from the inanimate.

From "Hypothesis - the origin of life in a hydrogel environment":

"In searching for answers to these questions, an implicit presumption is often made that the cell is an aqueous suspension of solutes. The pre-cell, then, is also considered to be an aqueous suspension, eventually surrounded by a membrane to become a cell. However, it is known that the cell is a gel (Pollack, 2001). With the cytoplasm treated as a gel rather than as an aqueous suspension, a question worth considering is whether the various conundrums that have limited progress in understanding the origin of life and the genetic instruction set might be better resolved."
1 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2012

"We propose that a primitive hydrogel was a more suitable environment for the assembly of pre cells, and then cells capable of growth and division. Gels, for example, retain their integrity even in the absence of a membrane. Primitive organelles, nutrients, ions, proteins and nucleic acids could remain ordered and in continuous, close molecular physical proximity within the gel without the danger of dissipating, as it would in a strictly aqueous environment with free diffusion. Hence, the question of how the pre-cell with no membrane and a very small mass could retain its integrity, need not be an issue with the cytoplasm viewed as a cohesive gel. Further, many basic functions performed by the cell or pre-cell are capable of being carried out by gels themselves, as we elaborate below."

[end quote, but that's just the intro ...]

Please get your heads out of your textbooks for just long enough to turn your minds back on.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2012
Consider a property of life, any property. Now imagine that all life started when that property first appeared. This has been the process for centuries.

First up was the spiritual nature of life, the fact that living things move on their own and appear to have been created or animated by some supernatural force. This idea in various forms remains to this day in various religious doctrine.

Much later and more pragmatically we thought about the cell as the most basic building block so it could be coacervates or some other cell-like precursor that kicked things off. And we also wondered about the environment ~ perhaps the right environment could bring back spontaneous generation, the theory we so high handedly dismissed in the 19th century. Somewhere in there it must have been digestion, homeostasis, nor-entropy, the catalyst/enzyme or maybe even a few amino acids raining down from the heavens was all that was needed to kick start the process...
1 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2012
And in the information age we seem to think that it is all down to information. So we imagine information being the first thing and stuff is added to it ~ cells, the magic (animation, purpose, evolutionary direction etc) and so on.

But the first thing to pass on information between generations was already alive, and being alive is information.

All of the above properties mentioned (the scientifically valid ones :) need to be present *at the same time* in some form but do not have to be concentrated on the separate living thing, and that is the trick when unravelling this mystery. The first living things 'precipitated' from an environment that contained all of the necessary components, thus no single component came first.
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 22, 2012
The biggest obstacle to answering the most perplexing problems in science today is the widespread belief that there are no mistakes in the textbooks -AlfTard

Untrue and a strawman. Textbooks, by their nature, always lag bleeding edge research findings. Furthermore, no one with a grain of common sense would ever make the claim that textbooks (and therefore current knowledge) is infallible, much less that it creates some kind of 'crisis'.

our system of standardized testing is encouraging students to memorize the materials. Critical thinking is a process of questioning assumptions -AlfTard

I see you memorized the phrase 'critical thinking', but did not bother to learn what it means - ironic!

Specialists are not (currently) trained to question the framework that they are memorizing -AlfTard

Yeah, that's why they're specialists - because they can't think for themselves! /facepalm
4 / 5 (4) Jun 22, 2012
This faith-based approach to science is devastating our nation's economic engine, and dashing hopes that we could become some sort of "knowledge economy" -AlfTard

More irony. It's cranks like you that are destroying rational discourse by promoting the "crank economy", which is sadly all to evident in the US today.

You guys have a *major* problem on your hands, and you are completely ignoring it -AlfTard

Yes, we're all trying to ignore you, as a representative of the major problem, but you keep on spamming. I guess that is all you are capable of doing.

This is far more serious than some against-the-mainstream critics trying to help you with some creative brainstorming -AlfTard

You mean against-the-mainstream nutjobs trying to subvert rationalism with mush-headed brainfarts? Thanks, but no thanks.
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 22, 2012
Somebody is going to criticize an argument or idea at some point, right? Keep talking. Please don't stop ...
4 / 5 (4) Jun 22, 2012
Don't feed trolls.
4 / 5 (4) Jun 22, 2012
you really need to get back on the medication brother hannes. like i said i think you'll find life more enjoyable without the paranoid delusional thoughts flying through your mind all the time. you make so many strawman nonsense arguments based on your personal beliefs its not funny. its actually pretty sickening, i used to feel sorry for you but its getting old to see 10 posts of your garbage in a row when you go on your delusional rants thread all the time.
3 / 5 (8) Jun 22, 2012
@ RobertKarlStonjek:

"And in the information age we seem to think that it is all down to information."

Creationists shouldn't comment on science. Your relativism, by conflation nevertheless, doesn't work.

As I noted already in my first comment we have observed and tested the RNA world. In another comment I discussed how a character trait phylogeny between chemical and biological evolution, if that is accepted, can be tested.

On the other hand we can't observe magic. But we can test that the world is non-magic, that is why science works so well, similarly to how universality of laws and uniformity of parameters work. So we know that your claimed appearances lie.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 22, 2012
As for information it isn't an essential property of evolution. The process takes living populations to living populations by heredity, and the natural mechanisms are many but include variation and selection.

Information isn't "a thing" but a property relative to a specific system. Here variation fills up the genome maximizing Kolmogorov entropy (KE), while selection channels Shannon information (SI) about the environment into it by _lowering_ the KE variation.

SI is a measure of which alleles works, in the environment of the parent generation, and attenuates over time. (Ref: Dawkins.) Without selection eventually the SI is lost. Hence heredity is a mechanism that happens to transport information with loss. The essential function is actually to propagate the gene.

It is only superficially that genes carries information and even knowledge learned. (A contingent recipe knowledge (what works), not absolute knowledge (how it works).) KE & SI is also lost.
3 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2012
Incidentally I don't see how creationists have managed to miss the obvious slur that Lonsdale, an atheist stating that he is partly motivated by this research managing to make a fool out of religious texts and claims, 'is doing science for atheism'.

Because that is what he does, benefiting us all and uncovering the natural beauty in a world untouched by pernicious magic and its conjurers.
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 22, 2012
Talking about potential mistakes in the textbooks should, in theory, be a regular topic of interest for those who dare to ask the most complex questions people have ever asked. What sort of egocentric people imagine that our scientific theories are faultless? That's a faith-based approach to science.

Critics play an absolutely vital role in science. Those who lump together all critics of conventional theory as crackpots or fringe exemplify a thoughtless version of science, where the public is expected to simply nod their heads each time that the experts grace us with their words of wisdom.

We all have brains. We need not rely upon others to think for us. The point of science is that we can all follow along with the evidence, arguments and logic, and judge for ourselves what we do and don't agree with.

Assumptions exist to be questioned. The problem is that students today are not taught how to do it, so people don't even recognize its value when they see it being done.
3 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2012
How do you get creationism out of my note? I merely pointed out that all conditions must be present for life to proceed, not that some divine being creates it.

Most of the models of life genesis, including RNA models, pick up part of the story. It is possible that all models develop at various places in the sea and that life as an independent existence occurred where these various forms converged.

So in the past step before the first cells evolved we would expect to see examples of something like clay life, something like vent life, something like RNA life, something like coacervates and so on, all occurring somewhere in the sea before a convergence or overlap gives rise to the first independent life forms.

This model requires far LESS magic than even your RNA world and is the most science friendly. The process is to establish what kind of independent form could support each of the minimum set of properties that must have converged to form the first life.
3.3 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2012
@ RobertKarlStonjek:

I got creationism out of "All of the above properties mentioned (the scientifically valid ones :) need to be present", starting with creationism and doctrine. If you didn't intend to inject religion into science I am sorry, but I think the mistake is understandable because of the unnecessary juxtaposition between magic tales and science.

Yes, simultaneous chemical evolution that supported the whole is not excluded and instead implied. Take the 2nd ref I gave, on metabolism. The LUCA metabolism was likely redundant in autotrophic CO2 input. It consisted of two connected autocatalytic networks, which self-amplification gives exponential growth essential for growth and self-repair. But they are fragile for collapse if they get under their amplification threshold. Poor regulation and uncontrolled growth, which is a parasitic leak as regards the cycle, are both causes that would put selection pressure on an initial redundancy.
3 / 5 (2) Jun 23, 2012
Similar things crop up in membranes, going back you find chemistry that blends bacterial and archaea pathways to non-stereospecificity and redundancy in autotrophic glycerol and fatty acid input. Those may have been abiotically produced in the beginning. [Sorry, no ref this time: I haven't actually read the paper yet and I need to do that first.]

These networks could have emerged in cells but also in consortia of cells. The models can't distinguish between those things.

The RNA world however is as I noted dead solid, as far as I understand the field I study and the opinion of the people I meet. The overall phylogenies comes back to this, and as I noted a character trait phylogeny even connect with chemical evolution over the ATP/RNA node.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2012
One way of reverse engineering life is to start with the viable cell and then delete one of the essential properties from that cell (no longer viable as a unit).

Ask "how can the missing property be utilised from the environment". In other words, one considers that the missing property exists in some other form independent of the cell.

Note that viruses remain the only life-like example of this model but rely on existing living things for their survival. For this model to work there must be interdependent partially alive things (like the virus) or not alive at all (such as the role of clay in clay life).

Thus we have an end point (viable the cell) and can work back by just one step from that cell rather than starting with nothing and considering how life could be the very next step, a huge leap indeed!!! My approach is not only science friendly but is the most likely method to lend itself to the experimental approach as what goes into the beaker is a life form as we know it !!
1 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2012
PS Science traditionally progresses from the known to the unknown. What we know for sure is the current forms of life and the current range of environments.

What we know with less certainty is the environments of the past and ancestral single celled life forms. We don't know much of the environment of the deep past (billions of years ago) but can leap to non-life environments such as those on other planets, especially Mars.

To start from the unknown environment and propose an unknown method and unknown intermediate steps leading to modern life is bold but, in my opinion, an unnecessarily large leap when the end point is known and some even simpler life or partial life forms could be proposed and synthesised from currently living entities, such as Prokaryotes, Achaea and Viruses.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2012
...cont (sorry, didn't quite fit in the above message :)
Modern science has done particularly badly when a leap into the unknown and the journey back to current conditions is proposed. This was the method of choice for religious creation mythology, which indicates the attraction to the human mind, but also of SuperSymmetry models and the Big Bang pre-inflation era, both of which remain pure speculation free of any empirical data...
not rated yet Jun 24, 2012
With their science-bubble-speak, you can't tell from the first message who is a troll, and who is actually the monster of the electric universe. Ok, I can live with that. But why is someone posting crackpot theories allowed to go on? Or, can't they simply check his ip address?

I am fully supporting freedom of speech, discussion,... But you can't discuss where there is obsession.
5 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2012
With their science-bubble-speak, you can't tell from the first message who is a troll, and who is actually the monster of the electric universe -Mastoras

I can tell.

But why is someone posting crackpot theories allowed to go on? -Mastoras

Good question.

Or, can't they simply check his ip address? -Mastoras

They could, if they could be bothered. But an IP address doesn't necessarily identify a unique person. It's better and safer to ban a username, but even that happens way too rarely.

I am fully supporting freedom of speech, discussion,... But you can't discuss where there is obsession -Mastoras

True, especially in scientific fora.
3 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2012
@ RoberKarlStonjek: Um, seeing that we have left traditional religion and there is now implications of electric universe woo and trolling, and I certainly don't want to join the club of looking obsessive (and geeky O.o) just because astrobiology is my main hobby besides gym training & dancing, I am hesitant to reply.

And really, what should I reply?

You are suggesting that known methods like phylogenies (and known _facts_ like the standard cosmology!) are "unknown", while their result such as the RNA world (comes out of ribosome studies but also consistent with ribosome phylogenies of the 3 BAE domains) are so successful in turnout that first Lonsdale set up a prize and then awarded it exclusively to the main stream find - 3 times thus far.

The facts speak for themselves.
3 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2012
I forgot, even better: my first ref to Goldman et al is also based in phylogenetic methods, definitely not only consistent in testing but unambiguously testing an RNA world. The first 20 % of the time proxy for protein fold evolution is devoid of DNA handling - it is an exciting recent result, splitting the RNA/protein world part of the RNA world wide open for research.
1 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2012
I would just note that models of the evolution of the universe based on observation only go back to the end of the inflation period. Models staring at 10^-40 seconds and evolving from there are, to date, pure speculation and rely on such things as supersymmetry (failed every empirical test on every version, currently no predicted particles are appearing in the LHC) and GUTs and quantum gravity, all complete failures to date.

Standard cosmology does not include any actual Big Bang. It includes only an expansion from a small dense state. The rest is speculation, not fact. In other words the method of working back from known science is a success, the method of jumping to the beginning and working out from there has thus far been a failure.

You have chosen a difficult field of study, I wish the best of luck with your RNA world. I only caution that is most likely that all the cell components must have evolved or been present in the environment ahead of the evolution of independent cell
1.3 / 5 (8) Jun 25, 2012
I have to agree with Lonsdale:

I also think biological life as we know it got started on earth. I think in this case his onto a good thing.

One thing that I think will test the researchers no small bit is to explain how the RNA molecule got started from nothing more than pond scum in the first place.
How will they replicate the conditions under which it could have formed spontaneously without resorting to all kinds of special laboratory controlled environments that can "show" how some particular component might have arisen?
Then of course there's the problem of preserving the RNA once it has formed without it being destroyed in the soup again. Followed by the encapsulation in a highly selective and tightly controlled cell-membrane. Since the controls in the membrane wall consists of highly complex proteins, how are they going to show how those arose without having some kind of protein manufacturing plant working already? What about the signalling mechanisms?

I can hardly wait!!!
5 / 5 (2) Jun 25, 2012
"I can hardly wait!!!"

At least they aren't trying to prove the existence of god.....
3 / 5 (2) Jun 25, 2012
rubberman, that is why they can't reply to why premiere astrobiologists like McKay and informed grant givers like Lonsdale promote main stream research such as RNA life out of the observed process moving from chemical to biological information. Or the peer reviewed research this thread have referenced, which has directly observed how RNA life was ancestral to todays cell. Or misrepresent standard cosmology (which contains observed big bang expansion, naturally) for reasons unrelated to anyone but themselves, it certainly doesn't bear on biology.

All they can say is that creationists and other woo mongers don't believe in basic biology. Who knew!? [/sarcasm]
1 / 5 (7) Jun 26, 2012
At least they aren't trying to prove the existence of god.....
Therein lies the irony - in order to show how life arose here on earth, they basically have to reveal the god of evolution. Without it, they're dead in the water! Good luck to them.

Just for good measure, I'll throw another tiny, tiny little obstacle in their path - one that measures about 70 billionths of a meter - namely, the kinesin motors and their microtubule pathways. Just how they're going to explain the development of that little manikin will be fascinating and probably highly amusing. But maybe I'm expecting too much?
5 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2012
. Just how they're going to explain the development of that little manikin will be fascinating and probably highly amusing. But maybe I'm expecting too much?

Not at all. Your wish is my command.
You're a little late to the party, Kev. Irreducible complexity has been dead for years, especially since Behe was pulled to pieces in the Dover trial.

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