This one, where Harvard pledged $1 million annually in 2005. One gets that impression from Sophie Wharton’s “Searching for life’s origins, on Earth and beyond”, Undergraduate Research Journal ( Spring 2009):
After the $8 billion hit that Harvard’s endowment took a few months ago, there is fear that funding to the Origins of Life Initiative may suffer too. The progress of the Initiative is hindered by the lack of a dedicated space for labs, which are currently scattered throughout the University. Nevertheless, the development of a new science campus in Allston – on the other side of the Charles River – offers a promising solution.
But it’s not hard to see what the problem is:
Another group in the Initiative – Scot T. Martin’s lab – managed to demonstrate that in prebiotic conditions, a reverse version of the Krebs cycle (a key biochemical process in cellular respiration) might have produced the first biomolecules. The reaction may have been catalyzed by sunlight combining with a particular mineral that is thought to have existed in Earth’s early waters.
More research will likely turn up more “may haves” and “might haves.” The rational for spending money to arrive at more speculations is not clear.
Riffing off Harvard’s interdisciplinary move, Wharton notes,
And that fundamental knowledge cannot come about without scientific collaboration across many fields. The questions of whether we are alone in the universe or how we came to be here will most likely not be answered by a team composed solely of biologists or solely of astronomers. It will be up to teams of scientists from a variety of disciplines – like the Origins of Life Initiative – to take on that challenge.
So we will get different types of speculations? Why does all this put one in mind of a bad investment?
File under: “Maybe you wouldn’t be better off if you’d gone to Harvard … ? ”