According to the scientists, elements such as iron and copper, along with small organic molecules called ligands, could have produced the building blocks of life.
The Biological Bulletin carries the new theory, presented by George Mason University’s Harold Morowitz and Vijayasarathy Srinivasan and the Santa Fe Institute’s Eric Smith. The team’s goal was to answer the question of how basic biochemicals could have formed in the absence of the biological catalysts that produce them inside (already existing) life-forms. Their conclusion? According to the scientists, elements such as iron and copper, along with small organic molecules called ligands, could have produced the building blocks of life.
Morowitz is candid about what he calls a “big problem” in evolutionary models of the origin of life. “You need large protein molecules to be catalysts to make monomers, but you need monomers to make the catalysts,” he explained.
In the team’s model, the atom of a transition metal (a group of elements including iron, copper, nickel, and other metals) serves as the core for a group of ligands. In hydrothermal ocean vents, these clusters serve as catalysts in reactions that produce simple biomolecules; the clusters then catalyze the simple biomolecules into more complex ones.
But as with nearly all naturalistic origin of life models, this one leans on a vague, faith-based idea of how these biomolecules actually positioned themselves into the far more complex forms of the “simplest” life. For example, the research’s press release states generically, “Gradually, the basic molecular ingredients of metabolism accumulated and were able to self-organize into networks of chemical reactions that laid the foundation for life.”
While the team hopes to attempt experiments to show aspects of their model in action—roughly akin to the aspirations of the Miller–Urey experiment—our guess is that such results will be mixed, producing slightly more complex compounds (which will be touted as evidence of the model) but still leaving a chasm between the products and anything resembling a functioning life-form. The evolutionist’s spin will be that such experiments show how natural processes could lead to life, but the reality is a great deal of human effort and intelligence showing how little scientists have come up with about how life originated “accidentally.”
For more information:
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.