List

Originally posted on May 14, 2009.

For about 40 years now, scientists have been working to recreate the primordial soup.  What I mean by this is we’ve been trying to determine and recreate the original conditions that led to life on this planet.  Powner et al. 2009 have managed to do just that.

We believe that life originated as RNA, a chain of nucleotides consisting of a nitrogenous base, a ribose sugar and a phosphate.  These nucleotides come in two types, pyrimidines (cytosine and uracil in RNA or thymine in DNA) and purines (adenine and guanine).  Using compounds that were likely present in the early atmosphere and under similar conditions (for example, under high UV radiation), researchers have observed the creation of RNA’s pyrimidines.  This is a major step toward understanding the origin of life on earth.

Pyrimidines

As an aside, fairly specific conditions that were present millions of years today and are not present today were required for this experiment to work.  For example, the level of UV radiation required to create the pyrimidines is probably much greater than the UV radiation on the planet today, suggesting that we may not be seeing spontaneous new life emerging anytime soon.  A popular creationist argument is that scientists claim life arose spontaneously and therefore we should be seeing spontaneous life emerging all over the place.  The “peanut butter argument” claims that the fact that life doesn’t spontaneously arise in the millions of jar of peanut butter that have been sold throughout the years disproves evolution.

First of all, as I said a moment ago, the conditions necessary for creating life simply aren’t present in a peanut butter jar. Second, we tend to consider the origin of life as a thing somewhat separate from evolution.  As soon as RNA molecules arose, there was certainly evolution occurring as the molecules competed for resources with varying success in the primordial soup. But how these molecules arose in the first place is a matter of chemistry, not evolution.  Anyway, for the sake of a good laugh, here is the argument:

10 Responses to “Unraveling the mystery of the origin of life”

  1. Quick Links | A Blog Around The Clock

    […] Unraveling the mystery of the origin of life […]

  2. Tom Kephart

    That video is comedy gold. I’m surprised he could do something as technically challenging as opening the jar of peanut butter.

    Theories of emerging life are fairy tales but believing in invisible creatures in the sky isn’t? The atheist’s nightmare, indeed.

  3. TareX

    …and using this video as an example of the “other side of the argument” makes you…?

  4. Jason

    The big problem I have with the theory of the spontaneous origin of life is thus:

    The shortest known genome of any non-viral organism (Candidatus Carsonella ruddii) comes in at just under 160kb, coding 182 genes, and even this number is not enough to support independent life (the species is an endosymbiont, and is more of an organelle than an actual organism). So, even in the earliest days of life, 160kb would probably still be a lower bound on the size of the genome. Even given billions of years, how likely is it that 160000 base pairs (a huge macromolecule weighing almost 42Md, or half that if single-stranded) will polymerize in such a fashion as to code for all the necessary functions of life and reproduction? And, even more importantly, where did the proteins to interpret and duplicate that code come from in the first place? The most elegant strand of genetic material in all of creation is useless without the numerous proteins it needs to carry out its instructions.

    Besides, while UV radiation may be able to catalyze the creation of the nitrogenous bases, it is utterly destructive to assembled genetic material, making it even more improbable that a fully-functioning genome could randomly assemble and replicate.

    I’m not saying that the theory of a higher power creating life is a more likely proposition, but current science is wholly unable to prove or disprove either theory.

  5. SPetra

    Surely the other problem is that if primitive life did spontaneously emerge in peanut butter jars, we wouldn’t be able to see it? It wouldn’t even be single-celled, for cryin’ out loud, it could practically be monomolecular! So every time we eat a peanut butter sandwich, we might be destroying the ancestors of potential future life. Maybe the pro-life protesters should start getting on our backs about that…

  6. TareX

    Evolution is a fact, as far as I’m concerned. However, to attribute it to mere chance is pretty far fetched, and the same can apply to the equilibrium of the Big Bang. The Earth and entire universe didn’t come into existence with a “Poof, there you go: Perfect world.” It came through a long process which began with an impossibly equilibrated process, which yes, points to an intelligent process taking place, defying the laws of probability where only one big bang can happen. Back to the RNA,

    1. How can it be possible for these nucleotides to form RNA by coming together in a proper sequence? Evolutionist biologist John Horgan admits the impossibility of the chance formation of RNA as follows;

    As researchers continue to examine the RNA-world concept closely, more problems emerge. How did RNA arise initially? RNA and its components are difficult to synthesize in a laboratory under the best of conditions, much less under plausible ones.

    2. Even if we suppose that it formed into sequence by chance, how could this RNA made up of simply a nucleotide chain have “decided” to self-replicate and with what kind of a mechanism could it have carried out this self-replicating process? Where did it find the nucleotides it used while self-replicating? Even evolutionist microbiologists Gerald Joyce and Leslie Orgel express the desperateness of the situation in their book titled “In the RNA World”:

    This discussion… has, in a sense, focused on a straw man:the myth of a self-replicating RNA molecule that arose de novo from a soup of random polynucleotides. Not only is such a notion unrealistic in light of our current understanding of prebiotic chemistry, but it should strain the credulity of even an optimist’s view of RNA’s catalytic potential.

    3. Even if we suppose that there was a self-replicating RNA in the primordial world, that numerous amino acids of every type ready to be used by RNA were available and that all of these impossibilities somehow took place, the situation still does not lead to the formation of even a single protein. For RNA only includes information concerning the structure of proteins. Amino acids, on the other hand, are raw materials. Nevertheless, no mechanism exists to produce proteins. To consider the existence of RNA sufficient for protein production is as nonsensical as expecting a car to be self-assembled and self-manufactured by simply throwing its design drawn on paper on thousands of its parts piled upon each other. In this case, too, production is out of the question since no factory or workers are involved in the process.

    Transfer RNA: It binds to amino acids and move them into place on the ribosome as needed. Each type of tRNA binds only a single one of the 20 different amino acids. Amino acids attach to the appropriate tRNA at one end, which has folded into a three-dimensional L-shape. Such a perfect harmony taking place in an area one billionth of a millimeter is clear evidence for intelligent design. I know, “intelligent design” seems to be the most stupid conclusion one can reach when being dumbfounded. But then again it’s the only one that makes sense (until someone can prove otherwise, that is. So yes, keep searching for explanations.)

    A protein is produced in the ribosome factory with the help of many enzymes and as a result of extremely complex processes within the cell. Ribosome is a complex cell organelle made up of proteins. Therefore, this situation also brings up another unreasonable supposition that ribosome, too, should have come into existence by chance at the same time. Even Nobel prize winner Jacques Monod, who is one of the most fanatical defenders of spontaneous regeneration, explains that protein synthesis can by no means be underestimated so as to depend merely on the information in the nucleic acids:

    “The code is meaningless unless translated. The modern cell’s translating machinery consists of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in DNA: the code cannot be translated otherwise than by products of translation. It is the modern expression of omne vivum ex ovo (All life [is] from [an] egg). When and how did this circle become closed? It is exceedingly difficult to imagine.”

    How could an RNA chain in the primordial world take such a decision and what methods could it have employed to realize protein production by undertaking the job of fifty specialized particles only on its own?

    Dr. Leslie Orgel, one of the associates of Stanley Miller and Francis Crick from the University of San Diego California, uses the term “scenario” for the possibility of “the origination of life through the RNA world”. Orgel described what kind of features this RNA had to have and how impossible this was in her article titled “The Origin of Life” published in American Scientist in October 1994:

    This scenario could have occured, we noted, if prebiotic RNA had two properties not evident today: A capacity to replicate without the help of proteins and an ability to catalyze every step of protein synthesis.

    As should be clear, to expect these two complex and extremely essential processes from a molecule like RNA is only possible by the power of imagination and viewpoint. Concrete scientific facts, on the other hand, make it explicit that the thesis of the “RNA World”, which is a new model proposed for the chance formation of life, is an equally implausible fable.

    What people misconceive about Creation, is that they believe (-as many Creationists believe as well) that it defies reason; that the universe and all living things were created through a “poof”. Think of it as guided evolution, or reasonable creation.

  7. Ashlay

    Both the Crocoduck and the Peanut Butter Argument make me even more firmly hold to my belief in evolution. I wonder how much any of these anti-evolution (are they entirely anti-evolution?) supporters have actually studied on the subject. I will give them more credit if they have Biology degrees and really understand what they are talking about.

    Then again, I haven’t really studied their side of the argument. I think I need to go to the store to get some peanut butter and ponder it.

  8. Jason

    I don’t think anyone here is doubting evolution. The origin of life, on the other hand, is something that the theory of evolution doesn’t cover (nor does it try to).

  9. Alex

    “Both the Crocoduck and the Peanut Butter Argument make me even more firmly hold to my belief in evolution. ”

    So obviously bad arguments make you believe in things more strongly, rather than good evidence? That’s a pretty lame test for belief.

  10. Andres Kievsky

    How can you laugh at that video? It makes me choke on my peanut butter sandwich… it’s sad rather than funny; proof we are still living in the Dark Ages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  Posts

June 4th, 2017

Soonish giveaway on Goodreads!

Five copies of the advance reader version of Zach and my new book Soonish are up for grabs on Goodreads! Click […]

March 7th, 2017

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything

Zach and I wrote a book! Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything explores 10 emerging technologies, and discusses the roadblocks […]

January 26th, 2017

Tales from the Crypt: a parasitoid manipulates the behaviour of its parasite host

I have a new paper out with Dr. Scott Egan, Dr. Andrew Forbes, and Sean Liu! The paper is Open Access […]

May 30th, 2016

Postdoc with Dr. Ryan Hechinger (and me!)

We’re looking for a postdoc! See below! —————— Postdoctoral Opportunity with the Marine Biology Research Division at SIO Postdoctoral Scholar […]

May 7th, 2016

Science…sort of Episode 240: Moon Rocks Don’t Glow

I co-hosted an episode of Science…sort of recently. I pasted the show notes below, but you’ll have to head over […]

February 24th, 2016

Books on parasites

I’m often asked by students to suggest books they can read about parasites. Below is a list of books that […]

August 22nd, 2015

Great Adaptations – A kid’s book about evolution

Zach Weinersmith and I contributed to Tiffany Taylor’s children’s book about evolution. Tiffany worked with scientists to create Seuss-style stories […]

August 22nd, 2015

Science…sort of Live Show from the Science Club in DC

I recently joined Ryan Haupt and Patrick Wheatley for a live episode of Science…sort of from the Science Club in […]

August 1st, 2015

My talk from the Future is Here Festival

Rick Karnesky and Rebecca Cohen from Nerd Nite East Bay invited me to give a talk at an event called The […]

June 28th, 2015

ASP Student Workshop Talk on Outreach

I gave a talk on outreach through blogging and podcasting for the Student Workshop at this year’s American Society of […]