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Introduction

01timeS.jpg How life began. This problem really permeates much of humankind, societies and cultures past and present. Some have evoked a supreme being to explain the origin of life; others look to the scientific method to provide answers. Regardless of the position, there have been at least two extremely exciting discoveries or reports that really change the nature of the game. The first one is the discovery of planets around nearby stars. There are other solar systems in space. That's very important.

02astroS.jpg And the other is the discovery of the possibility that life existed on Mars. 3.6 billion year old structures that look like microbial fossils preserved in a Martian meteorite that was blasted off Mars, was in space for around 16 million years, and hit Antarctica several thousand years ago. This is extremely controversial, but with these two important breakthroughs, evidence for the possibility of the existence of life in the past on Mars and planets around nearby stars, I think we're entering into a new dimension with regard to the origins of life on this planet. And there's a new field emerging and it's called astrobiology. NASA is very keen on developing this new discipline. What does one mean by astrobiology? Well, in its most general sense, it's really discussing the origins, the distribution and the future of life in the universe. And as you can see, these two discoveries really drive that home.

03earthS.jpg Now, let's go back to Earth. Because, it's on Earth where we have a great deal of information on the early Earth still preserved in the rock record and a variety of other information to help understand this incredibly interesting and fascinating field on the origins of life. Speculation on the origins of life from the scientific point of view have been many. Of course, Louis Pasteur in the 1860's disproved spontaneous generation. That was somewhat of an impediment with regard to the origin of life from non-living substances. Charles Darwin was very careful in his publications with regard to dealing with the origin of life. Yet, in letters, in particular in a letter in 1871 to a friend of his, and I quote, "It has often been said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present which could have ever been present but if and oh what a big if, we could conceive in some warm little pond with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc. present, that a protein compound was chemically formed, ready to undergo still more complex changes. At the present day, such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed." It's very unfortunate that Darwin did not publish on this.

04russbookS.gif Alexander Oparin, one of the premier Russian biochemists published an interesting little paper in 1924 that went virtually ignored. And in this paper, Oparin--he did not know of Darwin's letter in 1871--sort of presented the scenario, the hypothesis for much of the current research going on in a variety of laboratories around the world in the field of chemical evolution. That really spells it out; that's about the best way of putting it. He dealt with something he called the primitive earth and he indicated that the primitive earth was very different than the earth we see around us, that the atmosphere was very different. There was no oxygen in the atmosphere; it was a reducing atmosphere. It was probably hot, all sorts of energy around. There was no life on the primitive earth. He argued that if you take the reduced compounds in the atmosphere and you supply some energy source you might be able to produce organic compounds which would then combine with other of these organic compounds. There would be a bit of self-assembly leading to the origin of a self-replicating cell. Again, in 1924 the paper was virtually ignored.

05manS.jpg Oparin traveled widely and lectured widely. Here is Oparin enjoying capitalist Mexico in Aculpulco in 1974. Oparin, after World War II, and after his papers became translated, and a variety of studies resulted with this origin of life, became one of the grand spokespersons for chemical evolution and the origin of life.

06soupS.jpg Another scientist, H.B.S. Haldane came up with the concept of the primordial broth or the primitive soup. And in that he felt that, and indeed he published a few years after Oparin's paper appeared and Haldane had no knowledge of Oparin's work. It was one of these independent kind of things. He presented the same basic framework Haldane presented. He also indicated that in these bodies of water these reactions would be going on under the rather large concentrations of these organic substances leading to this whole idea of a primitive broth.

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