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NASA Earth

NASA Proposes "Water World" Theory For Origin of Life 115

Posted by samzenpus
from the from-the-water dept.
William Robinson (875390) writes "A new study from researchers at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has proposed the "water world" theory as the answer to our evolution, which describes how electrical energy naturally produced at the sea floor might have given rise to life. While the scientists had already proposed this hypothesis called 'submarine alkaline hydrothermal emergence of life' the new report assembles decades of field, laboratory and theoretical research into a grand, unified picture."
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NASA Proposes "Water World" Theory For Origin of Life

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  • Not Evolution (Score:5, Informative)

    by Wook Man (79498) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @08:44PM (#46784443)

    This is the theory of abiogenesis, not evolution. Evolution is how life changes, not how it got started.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      This is the theory of abiogenesis, not evolution. Evolution is how life changes, not how it got started.

      But life probably cannot start until evolution helps it along. Something that was half-alive probably had to be shaped further by evolution to become true life.

      For example, an early molecule that was perhaps either too poor a replicator (sloppy & broken) or too accurate a replicator (exact clones) would have reached a dead end if evolution didn't start pruning the copies to find the Goldilocks range o

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Hypothesis: the origin of life in a hydrogel environment
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15826671

      • Re:Not Evolution (Score:4, Informative)

        by Artifakt (700173) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @11:02PM (#46785077)

        But how does Evolution prune the repication mechanism itself? If an early replicator was very sloppy and mutation prone, then any possible advantages occuring by random mutation would have little chance to be tested before other random mutations overwrote them or other mutations killed off the organisms carrying that mutation. Working backwards, let's start with modern DNA, in cases where there are many additional mechanisms to cut the mutation rate so the non-random part of Evolution has more time to work. Putting DNA inside a walled cell, and making that cell nucleated, both reduce the exposure of the DNA to chemicals that can mutate copies. Multicellularity further shields the DNA from some more mutagens, and lets Evolution prune cells with bad copies by apoptosis, which can't be used by single celled organisms. Right there, we have a trend in Evolution - Nature seems to be trying to reduce error rates to target, as you put it, the Goldilocks range. "Advanced" organisms, such as us, or mosquitos or oak trees, have many features that make the selection rate occur at an optimum, where Nature gets enough time for selection processes to occur. In fact, sexual selection is probably just another form of targeting that Goldilocks range, and I'm sure a professional biologist can think of may more examples than the four I've mentioned. Some more minor steps in this pattern might include the evolution of Alcohol Dehydrogenase enzymes and others, but that's getting beyond my depth.
                But if we extrapolate a historical trend from that, the mutation rate must have been higher for 'primative' DNA based life, but the selection pressure must have been lower. Mutation must have been still higher if RNA was once the core molecule of heredity, which seems pretty solidly established. And if there's several more primative replicators, selection pressure must have moved glacially compared to the modern era. So how did selection have time even in 3 billion years to evolve DNA itself? If the earliest replicators were something like crystaline clays that were subject to a very modest amount of selection by erosion, as some biologists have speculated, how do we get the time for these to evolve through many stages to RNA and then DNA and eventually all the extra trimmings of today? Given that we've been in a DNA based biosphere for close to 1.5 billion years, that's about half the time since Earth cooled enough to support organic compounds,, and we're trying to cram probably at least 5 or 6 earlier replicators into less than half the time, knowing that each one was subject to less selection pressure than it's successor probably by orders of magnetude.

        • Time. Billions of years is a long time to try various and sundry things. Although it probably didn't happen this way (likely there were multiple attempts at 'life'), it just takes once....

          Life finds a way.

        • This seems longwinded for a question you ask and answer in the first sentence:

          If an early replicator was very sloppy and mutation prone, then any possible advantages occuring by random mutation would have little chance to be tested before other random mutations overwrote them or other mutations killed off the organisms carrying that mutation.

          That's the answer. Mechanisms which have too short of a half-life, or too long of one, are out-competed by randomly occurring ones with different half-lives.

    • +1

      Evolution doesn't try to explain how life began.
      It is therefore funny to me thatsome people think there's a contradiction between evolution and ancient stories about how it began. Even more odd, some people assume the HOW is incompatible with ideas about WHY life exists. Those are three separate questions.
         

      • by sg_oneill (159032)

        Considering that a sizeable percentage of americans seem to count geology and cosmology and god knows what else under "evolution" (thanks to inbred creationist hicks calling the big bang an "evolution" theory, etc) , calling biogenesis evolution is probably a forgivable mistake to make

      • Although evolution isn't an explanation of how life began, it does introduce some constrictions on what that explanation can include. For instance, all life on earth today is descended from a single common ancestor. Plants, animals and humans were not created apart from each other, one at a time. Humans are descended from Apes. Without explaining how that process began, the evolutionary evidence about this constraint is emphatic and undeniable. This flies in the face of one obvious prominent creation myth.
        • > Although evolution isn't an explanation of how life began, it does introduce some constrictions on what that explanation can include.
          > For instance, all life on earth today is descended from a single common ancestor. Plants, animals and humans were not created apart from each other, one at a time.

          We know that the iPhone "evolved" from early cell phones via natural selection aka market selection.
          We know that the latest cars similarly "evolved" via a process analogous to biological evolution.
          We also k

          • Seriously?

            We know that the iPhone "evolved" from early cell phones via natural selection aka market selection

            Damn that kool-aid is sweet? IPhones DIDN'T EVOLVE. There are individual phones that were built (created) for specific functions. All still exist even though their functions aren't prevalent anymore. None are extinct. The last was the brick cellular phone. Then computers were miniaturized enough to allow for a phone to become an simple program on that computer. It was named IPhone because people wouldn't buy pocket computer to call each other. Evolution is at beast a biologically process. When a

    • by mfwitten (1906728)

      I reject your notion that evolution is unrelated.

      Both variation and selection are still at work, even on "inanimate" objects.

      • I reject your notion that evolution is unrelated.

        Both variation and selection are still at work, even on "inanimate" objects.

        I moved to a place where my favorite convenience store isn't available. I still use there selection of cups. However, I don't expect them to one day 'upgrade' to the cup of the gas station across the street. Outside of biology, variation and selection are static. They can and are eliminated in communist societies as ills.

    • Abiogenesis [youtube.com]

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      This is the theory of abiogenesis

      It is one of several theories of abiogenesis, which are all under consideration by researchers.

  • until the UFO aliens reveal themselves.
  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @09:21PM (#46784633)

    Everyone knows that life was started when inanimate matter was touched by His Noodly Appendage [wikipedia.org].

  • by Mr.CRC (2330444) on Friday April 18, 2014 @02:37AM (#46785741)
    One thing which bugs me is that, after all the years since the first experiments took place which synthesized amino acids by putting CH4, NH3, etc. in a flask and passing electrical discharges through it, why hasn't anyone managed to synthesize at least a self-replicating, metabolizing, proto-cell or something "alive" in the lab? I mean, given that we should be able to simulate the optimal conditions and energy inputs, it's just a bit strange that we haven't produced this result. If such a simulation could yield a living cell or even a molecule blob that clearly has the characteristics of life (energy in, copies of itself out), yet some fundamental chemistry differences that make it clearly "alien" then Ohhh what a big deal that would be...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The earth had a billion years and the entire surface to a depth of some hundreds of metres.

      That's a lot replicates for an experimental team limited to 500 ml flasks in a lab.

    • The sheer scale of the chemistry involved is staggering. The Earth was concentrating the heat and energy of a star into itself, and churning billions of tons of material in millions of different chemical and pressure environments.

      At the current scale of things, we're not sure what the early conditions were like - were things mostly concentrated, or was their natural processes which were separating out reaction products to give a domain of purer precursors? And would anyone be happy if we assumed as such bef

    • I mean, the earth had a lab in the scale of hundreds of millions of square kilometers, performing concurrent "experiments" over millions of years in order to produce life. Do you think a random creation experiment can give results in a human lab in just a few years?
    • Perhaps it was the intention of the Universe itself that brought the first cells into being...
    • by nbritton (823086)

      Because proteins are incredibly more complex then base amino acids. The Ribonuclease protein is the simplest protein that we know of, and can be considered the most basic building block of a cell. It is made from 124 amino acids, the first one in the strand being Lysine, and there are 17 different amino acids in this protein. The only process we know of that can produce proteins are proteins, i.e. RNA and DNA transcription. We haven't yet figured out how to bootstrap this process, much less produce syntheti

      • by Mr.CRC (2330444)
        Have we even seen amino acids polymerize into random peptide fragments, ie. proto-proteins? So at least we can say that given enough "tries," there is a decent probability that after a while some little proteins with interesting properties (enzymatic?) may arise?
  • by Kythe (4779) on Friday April 18, 2014 @09:33AM (#46786937)
    Dr. Nick Lane has a more extended discussion on the possibility of life originating due to naturally-occurring proton imbalances in his book "Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life".

    As he points out, proton imbalances (across membranes) are actually the way all bacteria generate energy, and the way all life likely did before a phenomenal accident gave us mitochondria (in the case of most eukaryotes, it's proton imbalances across mitochondria within our cells, giving us far more energy for a given cell volume and quite possibly the thing that made multicellular life possible). He also calls the "primordial soup" life precursor picture into serious question, as fermentation is actually more complex, from an enzyme standpoint, than respiration.

    Really interesting stuff.

    http://www.nick-lane.net/ [nick-lane.net]
    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      Dr. Nick Lane has a more extended discussion on the possibility of life originating due to naturally-occurring proton imbalances in his book "Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life".

      ... which was published a number of years ago. My copy has been on my bookshelf for at least 3 years, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't news when it came out.

      The basic ideas that are presented here are not new (this isn't to diss Nick Lane - he's done some very interesting work, and written some good popular scie

  • The bible has been preaching a similar theory for thousands of years, why is this news today? Here are some verses from the book of Genesis chapter 1

    2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
    6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
    7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the wate

All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. -- Dawkins

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