Philip Bailey writes: An article in this month's Discovery Magazine claims that some of the fundamental organic molecules required for the development of life could have spontaneously arisen within ice. Stanley Miller, who was responsible for seminal experiments in the 1950s in this area, using sparks and a mixture of inorganic chemicals, in later life (he died last year), turned instead to low temperature experiments. 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. Subsequent work by others has been able to create RNA chains, reportedly as long as 700 bases, in icy conditions. RNA chains of this length can act as the templates for further RNA (and hence reproduction) and/or as enzymes.
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