Origin of Life Seeker Dies

on May 26, 2007

Reuters: “Scientist who sought secret of life in lab dies

Stanley Miller, partial namesake of the Miller–Urey experiment, has passed on at the age of 77, Reuters reports. Miller’s name is nearly synonymous with origin-of-life research; the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment purported to show that the earth’s early environment could have naturally given rise to organic compounds that became the building blocks of life.

Reuters quotes Miller at length from a 1996 interview the news service conducted with the scientist:

“The origin of life is a relatively easy thing and there’s a wide variety of conditions under which it will take place.”

“If you’ve got the same starting materials and the same conditions, you’re going to get the same compounds ... [t]he real question is whether or not there are very chance elements in the formation of life.”

“Making the amino acids made it seem like the rest of the steps would be very easy. It’s turned out that it’s more difficult than I thought it would be[.”]

“It’s a series of little tricks. Once you learn the trick it’s very easy. The problem is learning the trick.”

“It’s a series of little tricks. Once you learn the trick it’s very easy. The problem is learning the trick.”

Reuters then explains, “Scientists appeared on the cusp of achieving genesis in the laboratory but, over the next half century, creating life from scratch eluded researchers.”

The most revealing sign of science’s lingering lack of explanation for the origin of life, however, is that modern scientists are unsatisfied with the Miller–Urey model for abiogenesis. Reuters reports on the research of scientist Guenter Waechtershaeuser who, while acknowledging Miller’s research, “argu[es] that Miller and other mainstream scientists have been looking in the wrong places to understand the creation of life.” (The use of the word “creation” is puzzling in this context.) Waechtershaeuser supports an alternative to Miller’s model that suggests life originated “on a flat area where mineral surfaces could spark chemical processes leading to living cells.”

Although we certainly disagree with both the thrust and the science of the Miller–Urey research (see Why the Miller–Urey research argues against abiogenesis and Q&A: Origin of Life for details), we extend our condolences to Dr. Miller’s friends and family.

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