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Earth Science

Transition Metal Catalysts Could Be Key To Origin of Life 145

An anonymous reader writes "One of the big, unsolved problems in explaining how life arose on Earth is a chicken-and-egg paradox: How could the basic biochemicals — such as amino acids and nucleotides — have arisen before the biological catalysts (proteins or ribozymes) existed to carry out their formation? In a paper appearing in the current issue of The Biological Bulletin, scientists propose that a third type of catalyst could have jumpstarted metabolism and life itself, deep in hydrothermal ocean vents."
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Transition Metal Catalysts Could Be Key To Origin of Life

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  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @08:25PM (#33484652) Homepage Journal

    How could the basic biochemicals - such as amino acids and nucleotides - have arisen before the biological catalysts (proteins or ribozymes) existed to carry out their formation

    Didn't the Miller-Urey Experiment [] answer how amino acids could show up?

  • Who says that life arose from purely chemical reactions?

    Electricity has always been a factor in the more modern plausible origin of life theories. Experiments to generate complex organic molecules from base components by simulating early Earth like environment have always involved some sort of electrical component, namely in the form of simulated lightning.

    Though your real gripe is against that the randomness, in your view, could not have given the result of life because the chances are so small. However in order for the chances to be small they have to exist in the first place as small is greater than 0.

    You are considering only the improbability of a single event under a single circumstance but not considering how many times that circumstance might occur in the universe, which is vast, old and to any reasonable point of scientific certanty contains a large number of such circumstances. You are focusing only on the single success without taking into account or having any idea of all the other times it almost but didn't happen.

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @08:51PM (#33484822) Journal

    Most everything has an an electromagnetic field of some kind. But if you're insinuating that everythng is animated by the Force, well, then, you're a gullible moron.

    Ooh look, I read a book by a guy, and he thinks scientists are a bunch of morons, so I'll go on Slashdot and talk about the evil materialists.

    Guess what, guy, science is methodological naturalism. If you have a testable theory, then provide it, otherwise take your book and shove it up your ass.

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @08:53PM (#33484830)

    And what's this nonsense about biochemists and physicists having an "agenda" like creationists.

    I said "materialists". For example, James Randi (the magician) is a materialist with an religious agenda.

    So Randi doesn't believe in energy???

    You're sending a very confused message.

    Sometimes even the best scientists fall in love with their guiding philosophy.

    Pray tell, what is scientists' guiding philosophy?

    For me, evidence trumps tradition. Is that a philosophy?

  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @09:42PM (#33485110)

    You need to learn what materialism is. The way you are trying to use the word is nothing like the way any educated person uses it. Talk about sending a confused message. Alternately, you are trying to create a strawman argument. If not, learn to high school physics, learn to freshman college philosophy, or at least read something as modern as Locke or Berkeley. Then spend ten years on Quantum Mechanics and Information Physics, and you might be able to add something constructive to this discussion.

    And the answer to your rhetorical question at the end is actually a clear "Yes!". You should also read Sir Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn so you learn why it's a yes and not anything else. Here's a hint, don't waste people's time treating a real question as a mere rhetorical tool. There have been hundreds of thousands of man hours devoted to creating a philosophy of science and dozens of brilliant books written on the subject. Most working scientists took at least one philosophy of science course to get their degree. If you want to insult all of them that took that course seriously and didn't just treat it as a nonsense prerequisite to the subject, go ahead, but claiming that there is no such thing puts the burden of proof squarely in your court.

    To any Atheists reading this far, Black Parrot is claiming to be defending your position against religious ones. Unfortunately, following his argument logically means that to justify Atheism, you have to give up all physics post Isaac Newton and all modern philosophy of science. Do you really want to say "I am an Atheist, so Einstein isn't science. I reject all modern science post Newtonian strict materialism to cling to my unreligious non-beliefs." Because, I thought, you know, just as a vague impression up till now, that maybe some of you Atheists actually have a logical argument or two to explain why you support it instead. If Black Parrot is speaking for you, you don't. I could deliberately pick the most stupid sounding religion ever (maybe something with a creation myth involving spaceships like gold colored DC-10s, and a big volcano), secure it wasn't nearly as absurd as the Atheist position as it's being stated above.

  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @10:09PM (#33485230)

    The problem is, the experiments showed that amino acids were much easier to get than was originally thought. But when that result was announced, the general opinion was that getting from there to protein and nucleic acid synthesis was comparatively simpler, and would happen using much the same experimental setup. People confidently predicted the full synthesis of life within a year, or at most a few. Such predictions flew about, in major places such as Life magazine, the New York Times, and official U.S. Government reports. That part didn't happen. instead, the experiment revealed protein folding and other steps in getting to actual life were probably much, much harder than had been supposed.
            Now consider this in light of the 'God of the Gaps' argument so popular among Atheists. (The reason I urge this is that the Miller-Urey experiments actually led directly to a bunch of God of the Gaps remarks in those same articles, and were hailed by Atheist spokespersons such as Sir Bertrand Russell.). The way that argument is usually phrased, the 'gaps' are not just shifting around, rather they are getting smaller with modern science. What happened here was, as one gap got smaller, another grew (as one event turned out to be much more probable than thought, another event in the chain was shown to be much more improbable than was thought by the same theories.).
            Really, Atheists don't have to prove their claim, as it's a simple negative. Even though I'm taking the side of the Theists here, I'll grant that. The thing is, Atheist spokespersons and groups have seized on many scientific discoveries, including the Miller-Urey experiments, as proof of something they don't really carry the burden of proving, and those theories and discoveries have later fallen flat (witness Sir Bertrand Russell, Howard Phillips Lovecraft and others using the Steady State universe model as a proof of Atheism, with the argument being: No moment of first creation = No first creator). A lot of Carl Sagan's rhetoric and some of Richard Dawkins' is still based on these same points, and those two have had to ignore things they knew/know about modern science to cling to their (un)beliefs.
            The Miller-Urey experiments were brilliant and fundamental to much new knowledge, but they are also something that has been widely misinterpreted and need to be groked most carefully.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday September 06, 2010 @03:42AM (#33486690) Journal

    It's widely thought that early forms of life were based on RNA rather than DNA, so there you go.

    In particular, TFA (at least as characterized by the slashdot article) seems to be hunting for a "missing link" programmable catalyst bridging a perceived gap between DNA/RNA and proteins for chemical synthesis, and proposing transition element complexes to fill this gap. But RNA works just fine as self-folding charge/shape/leverage-based molecular machinery, as well as self-copying genetic information "tapes". So it can be the whole ball of wax for the initial startup. There IS no gap to be filled.

    Of course it's less effective than protein for molecular machinery, and less stable than DNA as a data repository, etc. But those can be evolved-on upgrades later.

    Now we just need to figure out how to make a ribosome.

    Ribosomes are a case in point: They're the bulk of a very complex chemical factory for building proteins. But when you tear them apart you'll find that MOST of the pieces are RNA enzymes. And other parts of the machinery are RNA as well - notably the T-RNA that gets bound to the various amino acids, carries them into the ribosome, and lines them up in the sequence specified by the M-RNA "tape" being transcribed.

    Seems to me the logical sequence is for the whole protein synthesis mechanism to initially be built out of RNA, then (once directed protein synthesis is up and running), some pieces of it - such as chunks of the ribosome and aminoacyl tRNA synthetases - would eventually be replaced by proteins that would do the job better.

Contemptuous lights flashed flashed across the computer's console. -- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy