The main topic of a recent Science article is a claim that life on Earth was jumpstarted by a very early hit by a
Arguments have sometimes been heated. At a 2008 meeting on the origin of life in Ventura, California, [biochemist Robert] Shapiro and John Sutherland, a chemist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, wound up shouting at each other. “Bob was very critical about published routes to prebiotic molecules,” Sutherland says. If the chemistry wasn’t ironclad, “he felt it failed.”
Today, [origin of life researcher Steve] Benner says, “The amount of yelling has gone down.” A steady stream of new data has bolstered scenarios for how RNA could have arisen. For example, although Benner and his colleagues had previously shown how ribose may have formed, they could not explain how some of its ingredients—namely, the highly reactive small molecules formaldehyde, glycolaldehyde, and glyceraldehyde—could have survived. Geochemists have long thought that reactions sparked by lightning and ultraviolet (UV) light could have produced such compounds. However, Benner says, “There’s no way to build up a reservoir” of those compounds. They can react with one another, devolving into a tarlike glop.
Benner now has a possible solution, which builds on recent work suggesting early Earth had a wet-dry cycle. Robert F. Service, “How an ancient cataclysm may have jump-started life on Earth” at Science
We expect they’ll be at it a while.
See also: Steve Benner: Origin Of Life Field Beset By Shortage Of Ideas, Science By Overflow Of Consensus
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