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Biotech Science

Life May Have Evolved In Ice 159

Philip Bailey writes "An article in this month's Discover Magazine claims that some of the fundamental organic molecules required for the development of life could have spontaneously arisen within ice. Scientist Stanley Miller was responsible for seminal experiments in the 1950s in this area. He used sparks and a mixture of inorganic chemicals to test his theories, but turned to low temperature experiments in later years. He was able to create the constituents of RNA and proteins from a mixture of cyanide, ammonia and ice in trials lasting up to 25 years. A process known as eutectic freezing is thought to be the basis of these results: small pockets of liquid water, in which foreign molecules are concentrated enormously, increases the reaction rates, and more than compensates for temperature-related slowing."
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Life May Have Evolved In Ice

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  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @09:24PM (#22286512)
    Although I can certainly see how the physics of freezing would help concentrate biological precursors, I would expect an icy-origin to have left more evidence in the form of cryophilic biodiversity. With an icy origin, ice-tolerant organisms should have arisen quite early. Indeed they would have probably been the first life forms and ice-adapted life would have been quite common. Unless the Earth experienced a 100% ice-free period, descendants of those original cryophiles would be with us to this day. Moreover, many "normal" species would still arbor a shared genetic basis for evolving ice-tolerance or cryophilic lifestyles.

    Instead, we seem to see limited scattering species that have independently evolved various forms of ice-tolerance. I could be wrong. If so, I'd love to hear if biologists have found evidence for a widely shared mechanism for ice-tolerance that speaks to a frozen beginning.
  • Re:Ice... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by osu-neko ( 2604 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @09:53PM (#22286668)
    Closer to four billion years ago (at least 3.7 billion in any case). And the conclusion here is not that life evolved in ice, but that it may have. It's possible. That has less significance for history on Earth as it does on other worlds...
  • Re:Ice... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2008 @09:58PM (#22286688)
    Hm, ice would evaporate quickly and never survive a trip through the atmosphere, and in space it would have been much too cold to form temporary pockets of water. Also, where would the lightning come from which generated the first more complex molecules which later formed RNA etc.?
  • by teh moges ( 875080 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @10:00PM (#22286700) Homepage
    Knowing where something came from allows more insight into where it is going...
  • by Wonko the Sane ( 25252 ) * on Sunday February 03, 2008 @10:02PM (#22286712) Journal

    Answering these questions do nothing to change the important issues of today and the future.
    Knowing how life began is a very important part of understanding life in general. This is relevant to the important issue of making me a cyborg body before my current one wears out.
  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @10:02PM (#22286714)

    If we want to look for life on other planets then this research may help us, if it can be shown life is possible or even likely on frozen planets.

    "We're here so let's make the most of it."

    Yeah, let's not study ourselves, our origins, or science at all. Why bother with history? We're here, lets make the most of it.

  • Yes, it does really matter. Knowing how life evolved gives us insights into how life works here and now. Answering these questions most certainly WILL change issues of today. And, even if they don't, who cares? It's knowledge. Humans have this insatiable urge to know everything they can, leading to today's technologically and medically advanced world. However, occasionally we get people who decry the process without understanding it.
  • by Tsiangkun ( 746511 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @10:08PM (#22286744) Homepage
    I think they are saying that the molecular precursors to life on earth, can be created in ice. We see large chunks of flying ice in the universe. Our planet may have been implanted with the required precursors for life from ice flying into the planet.

    I don't know so much that they are intending to say that the earliest life forms were created in ice.

    But I don't know, I didn't read the article. Just taking a break from the superbowl.
  • by Plazmid ( 1132467 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @10:14PM (#22286788)
    Does it matter, yes it does. In fact, there is big big money in finding simple very primitive organisms. Primitive organisms are easy to engineer organisms, which means that it is easy to turn them into oil making machines, which means big bucks.
  • Re:Ice... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by radtea ( 464814 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @10:22PM (#22286820)
    Was the earth even cold enough back then to have that much ice?


    One of the ongoing problems in paleobiology is the "early quiet sun". Solar models, which we now know to be extremely accurate based on solar neutrino measurements, show that the sun was considerably dimmer in the distant past. So dim that by any reasonable standard we would expect the Earth to be substantially covered with... ice.

    A mechanism that would cause life to form in an icy environment would give a lot of answers to open questions.

    Google "standard solar model", "early quiet sun" and "Sudbury Neutrino Observatory" for some of the background on this.
  • by Musrum ( 779646 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @10:24PM (#22286830)
    If we all had that sort of attitude, we would still be banging rocks together...
  • by repapetilto ( 1219852 ) on Sunday February 03, 2008 @11:09PM (#22287038)
    My impression from the article is that a cold, ice environment facilitates the creation of single nucleotides (and obviously other molecules) from "scratch' due to 1) the ice surface acting as a catalyst, and 2) water tending to form into crystals (a more stable arrangement in cold temperatures) which requires the exclusion of other molecules to elsewhere and hence small pockets with high concentrations of molecules with similar polarity. Basically the first phenomenon is a lowering of the Activation energy (here an addition reaction of cyanide to itself and then to ammonia; actually if anyone knows the proposed mechanism for the formation of adenine I would be really interested in seeing it)and the second is just raising the concentrations of the reagents. Now that creates an environment more conducive to the formation of adenine than a "primal soup", but relative to the use of enzymes and selective uptake of precursor molecules (as done by cells) this is not an advantageous process. So basically the original cryophiles would be outcompeted by their descendants. I hope that was clear enough
  • by jcnnghm ( 538570 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @12:06AM (#22287390)
    I'd argue that a good hardware design (digital logic, verilog, gate construction, basic circuit design) course and an assembly language course would be invaluable to the modern computer science major.
  • Earth's Temp (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bendodge ( 998616 ) <bendodge@bsgpAUD ... minus poet> on Monday February 04, 2008 @01:51AM (#22287902) Homepage Journal
    So will global warming stop evolution?
  • by killmofasta ( 460565 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @01:57AM (#22287956)
    I have read Dr. Stanley Miller's work sine the 80s, He is a meticulous and persistant with his experiments. His conjectures run all over the map. I saw a lecture given by him in the early 90s, when he was progressing away from primordial soup. What is interesting is that He is moving towards the theories of Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe that life evolved on comets. Of all the 'science' and 'scientists' its after reading their work, and discussing it with post-docs from MIT, that I have a great respect for their work.

    The problem about the origin of life, (which has a direct impact on the evaluation of Drake's equation) is how hard is it to make a molecule, by 'chance' that is selectively self-replicating. Molecular biology is a very young field.
  • by guywcole ( 984149 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @02:15AM (#22288084) Homepage Journal
    Didn't the Oxygen Catastrophe create a "snowball earth" as it removed the vast majority of CO2 from the atmosphere and lowered global temperatures by something like 25 deg. C?

    I would think that the Oxygen Catastrophe would have selected more towards the cryophiles, not away. This, also, is wild speculation.
  • Re:Earth's Temp (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thepotoo ( 829391 ) <thepotoospam@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Monday February 04, 2008 @09:00AM (#22289762)

    So will global warming stop evolution?

    Is that a serious question? The answer is no, because the only way to stop evolution is to extinguish all life as we know it.

    As long as any organism is alive and has the ability to reproduce with genetic drift, life will continue to evolve. Besides, our predictions of global temperature increase by the end of the century are all below increases of 15C. Species which are adapted to higher temperatures, like Thermus aquaticus, will certainly not be wiped out by global warming, they will continue to evolve.

    Where's the -1 Misinformed mod when you need it?

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.