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Biotech Science

Sludge In Flask Gives Clues To Origin of Life 361

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the most-flasks-contain-solution-to-life's-problems dept.
sciencehabit writes "In the 1950s, scientist Stanley Miller conducted a series of experiments in which he zapped gas-filled flasks with electricity. The most famous of these, published in 1952, showed that such a process could give rise to amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. But a later experiment, conducted in 1958, sat on the shelf--never analyzed by Miller. Now, scientists have gone back and analyzed the sludge at the bottom of this flask and found even more amino acids than before--and better evidence that lightning and volcanic gasses may have helped create life on Earth."
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Sludge In Flask Gives Clues To Origin of Life

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  • Twinkie (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @05:10PM (#35579180)

    Didn't he leave a Twinkie sitting on the shelf too? (And scientists found fewer amino acids than ever before!)

  • * Goes off running to go show this to his creationist "friends"...*
    • and say "NA! NA! NOT LISTENING!"

      But don't let that stop you.
      • by cbiltcliffe (186293) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @08:35PM (#35581346) Homepage Journal

        No. At least, not the knowledgeable ones.

        They'll say something like:

        "Stanley Miller's 1952 experiment has been shown to be flawed by more modern views of early Earth. The collection of gases that Miller filled his apparatus with before electrifying it was not characteristic of Earth's early atmosphere. Repeating the experiment with the proper gas mixture as generally accepted by current thinking shows no amino acid generation at all."

        And then they'll say something about the right handed amino acids generated, which will destroy life, rather than create it, and the other toxic compounds created during the same experiment, that would have destroyed any chance of the left-handed amino acids forming life, if the acids hadn't been filtered out by the intelligent design of the experiment by the scientist.

        And after that, they'll probably question the gases used for this 1958 experiment, assuming that the same mistakes made in 1952 would probably be repeated in 1958.

        But then, I'm just guessing, and they may all say "NANANANANOTLISTENING" after all.

    • actually if you note that equal numbers of left and right handed amino acids were produced. I think the left handed ones would be considered toxic to any "life" being formed
      plus the experiment filtered out a bunch of very nasty TAR from the gunk. so unless you can even using a pair of 100MW tesla coils and a "beaker" the size of a small shed get a pocket of just right handed amino acids then the staff of AIG and ICR will not give you any points.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kubernet3s (1954672)
        All right, all right, just hold your goddam horses. First of all, there are D and L amino acids. L, the ones which are "levorotary," or "left handed" are in fact the ones mostly used by eukaryotes, and the ones used as part of our metabolic pathways. However, many D acids are indeed useful to a variety of species, including many prokaryotes, the organisms believed to more greatly resemble the earliest life forms. Calling the product toxic is like calling oxygen caustic: accurate, but misleading. There are
    • How will that change their beliefs?
      The concept of gods being the cause of lightning and volcanoes have been in religion since pre-history.
      So the lightning is from God and that volcanic gas reminds people of volcanic eruptions that creates Lava which when breaks down makes a good soil/dust/mixed with water (mud) Heck the sludge could be considered mud by some people.

      You just put more fuel to their beliefs.

    • * Goes off running to go show this to his creationist "friends"...*

      You do realize that if you get noisy, they will too, right?

    • Re:Oh my... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by binary paladin (684759) <binarypaladin@NOspaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @07:23PM (#35580684)

      Why do I even bother reading these threads in hope of some interesting discussion? The only threads more retarded than evolution/origin of life ones are the ones related to global warming.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @05:18PM (#35579270)
    I was going to say "How do they know there was no contamination?", but TFA states that equal amounts of right handed and left handed organic molecules were found, ruling out contamination as a source of the amino acids.
    • by jfengel (409917)

      It has been repeated many times, in a variety of ways. This is more "history" than "science". The original experimenters for some reason didn't analyze the data, so it's like completing the experiment, a half-century later. Think of it as "closure".

      There are some moderately novel results from this. There are so many variables in the experiment that there's hardly any reason to do the same one twice. In this case, the inputs had some more sulfur than other experiments, and they got out some different am

  • No Repeats? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alaren (682568) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @05:19PM (#35579284)

    I'm curious as to whether these results have been revisited--or replicated--since the 1950s. This article seems to indicate that people have been talking about the experiment without really revisiting the science for more than half a century.

    Biology is not my area of expertise, but I have to wonder why we haven't managed to "create life" yet (or have we?). It seems like such an experiment could yield a lot of results that would be important for everything from medicine (understanding where we came from may give us better insight into where we are now) to space travel (isn't one of the variables in the Drake equation the likelihood of life appearing? Wouldn't we need to know what it takes for life to emerge in order to calculate that?).

    Are the experiments just not economically promising enough? More complicated than they sound? I'd be very interested to know more about this area of research from someone with actual background in the field.

    • Re:No Repeats? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr. Slippery (47854) <.tms. .at. .infamous.net.> on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @05:23PM (#35579348) Homepage

      I have to wonder why we haven't managed to "create life" yet.

      It took hundreds of millions of years and a lab the size of a planet to do it the first time. It may take more than a few decades to reproduce that.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by sdguero (1112795)

      Biology is not my area of expertise, but I have to wonder why we haven't managed to "create life" yet (or have we?).

      I create life every morning. Unfortunately it usually goes swirling down the shower drain.

    • Jc venter is very close to synthetic life where all things in the lifeform are synthrtic. As for what you asked earlier, many people have replicated the work. You have to look to find... yahoo news isn't about to publish astory where someone repeated something... get me?

      • by jfengel (409917)

        What Venter is doing is trying to solve the problem from the other end, trying to replicate something very much like existing life forms, using DNA, but made entirely from non-living materials. The first replicators would be far, far simpler than what he wants to do.

        Both are important work, but the latter is what people have in mind when they talk about creating life from scratch. Venter's experiment will prove that an intelligent designer can create a complex life form, but it doesn't prove that it can a

    • by IICV (652597)

      We haven't revisited it because there's really no point.

      The conditions on ancient Earth were, basically, various different permutations on this experiment repeated over and over again in a million trillion gallons of water (i.e, the entirety of the liquid water present on this planet) for several million years. The Miller-Urey experiment was conducted in order to demonstrate feasibility, and it did so; in conditions similar to what we think the ancient Earth looked like, the basic building blocks of life wo

    • Biochemist and Ohio U Ph.D. Fuz Rana in Creating Life in the Lab makes a strong case that a basic life form created by scientists is approximately a decade away.

      http://www.amazon.com/Creating-Life-Lab-Discoveries-Synthetic/dp/0801072093 [amazon.com]

    • I'm curious as to whether these results have been revisited--or replicated--since the 1950s. This article seems to indicate that people have been talking about the experiment without really revisiting the science for more than half a century.

      I don't know why no one else has done it, but for my money it's not very interesting anymore. We've since discovered that amino acids form even in deep space. It's just organic chemistry. The interesting question is how do we narrow down all the conjectures about how life might have gotten started, to the one(s) that actually happened.

      Biology is not my area of expertise, but I have to wonder why we haven't managed to "create life" yet (or have we?).

      I haven't read anything about it for a few years, but we're probably within a few years of it. Several well-funded teams have been working on it.

      However, AFAIK none of them a

    • Re:No Repeats? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dahamma (304068) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @06:30PM (#35580092)

      There are plenty of repeats of this - they just don't bother publishing them because there isn't much new to learn.

      In fact, we repeated a version of the Urey-Miller experiment in my undergraduate biology lab independent project. The hard pard was going around bumming free equipment (high voltage transformer from the EE dept, balloons of elementary gases from the chemistry dept, even the help of a very cool tech in the physics dept who helped us make a simple spark gap chamber out of a glass bottle, a couple tungsten rods, and a blowtorch).

      The goal was to repeat a few times with slightly different starting materials, and see what different amino acids we could find. Unfortunately, we managed to blow up the custom made spark bottle on the second run; someone dropped it and caused a hairline crack after the first run, and that let enough oxygen get in after we (not-so-successfully) evacuated it to cause a nice little explosion after turning on the spark gap. Luckily we were careful enough to put it under an enclosed fume hood ;)

      In the end it was more an exersice in begging for supplies than novel science. But that was probably a lot more useful skill to learn for a budding researcher than how to inseminate a sea urchin...

  • Journal entry: Lightning and volcanic gases... gotta get outta here.
  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @05:26PM (#35579372)
    If examining sludge in a 50-year old flask can give clues to the origin of life, just imagine what scientists could learn by examining the inside of my fridge!
  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @05:32PM (#35579456) Homepage Journal
    In the fifties, when these experiments was set in motion, it had just recently been proven that DNA was the mechanism by which cells passed on their programming to their offspring. Prior to that, the common belief was that proteins did all the work, and that DNA was just a structural fibre like cellulose. Today, we're strongly of the opinion that not only was protein less relevant to early life, but probably completely irrelevant, as we've determined that RNA can perform the role of both DNA (information storage) and proteins (enzymes and structure). Evidence suggests that it once performed both of these roles exclusively, and that DNA and proteins evolved because they were tools better-suited to certain tasks.

    THEREFORE: the availability of amino acids isn't relevant to the origin of life; only that they're around later for higher life forms to evolve. We really need to worry about the availability of ribonucleotides. The idea that we need to worry about the availability of amino acids only comes later.
    • My read of the evidence is that the primordial ooze was likely churning with a great many different self-sustaining/self-replicating chemical cycles that could have started in isolation in a soup sufficiently rich in a variety of compounds. RNA would have simply been one fairly isolated self-replicating molecule in this constantly churning chemical soup. To me, that initial flip from "not alive" to "life" happens when bubbles of promordial ooze inside lipid membranes start absorbing their free-floating su
    • by drooling-dog (189103) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @09:24PM (#35581704)

      We really need to worry about the availability of ribonucleotides.

      Then you'll want to check out one of my favorite papers of the last several years (if you like organic chem):

      Powner, M., Gerland, B., & Sutherland, J., Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions, Nature 459, 239-242 (2009).

      These are activated (i.e., as the phosphates) ribonucleotides being synthesized in fairly high yields from a few simple molecules under mild conditions. It still blows my mind.

  • That article sucks horribly they missed such a huge opportunity for jokes if only they had called it ooze instead of sludge.
  • No reason to believe the lightning had to come from the sky.

  • From my lips, as well as ETOH and H20.
  • by cvtan (752695) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @10:01PM (#35581918)
    anything is going to have signs of life in it!
  • by Fujisawa Sensei (207127) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @10:36PM (#35582146) Journal

    Perhaps this so called 'sludge' is not really sludge at all. I believe that is is actually sauce, sauce from the Flying Spaghetti Monster itself. And being a sauce, this gives us believers in the FSM more actual evidence for its existence, than the magic man in the sky.

    Glory to the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

  • by vga_init (589198) on Tuesday March 22, 2011 @11:31PM (#35582462) Journal

    ...that this sludge has given me clues to the origin of life, but I can say certainly that life has given me clues to the origin of this sludge.

Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable. -- Gilb

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