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Origin of life researcher: Modern cells might not reflect origin of life conditions

Bright blues, browns, & oranges make Heart Spring a beautiful geothermal feature.

Here’s more on the Mulkidjanian/Koonin paper’s recent “geothermal ponds” claims re the origin of life:  (Brian Switek, “Debate bubbles over the origin of life”, Nature, February 13, 2012):

The study is already generating strong disagreement among other early-life experts. Nick Lane, a biochemist at University College London, UK, points out that the geothermal-pool hypothesis is problematic both biologically and geologically. “There was almost certainly very little land 4 billion years ago and terrestrial systems would have been unstable, short-lived, and severely limited in distribution,” Lane says. Such conditions would have made it difficult for early life to gain a foothold, he says.

Lane also notes that the study has a significant conceptual flaw. “To suggest that the ionic composition of primordial cells should reflect the composition of the oceans is to suggest that cells are in equilibrium with their medium, which is close to saying that they are not alive,” Lane notes. “Cells require dynamic disequilibrium — that is what being alive is all about.”

That said,

Molecular biologist Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says that “geothermal active areas provide numerous advantages” and are a plausible staging area for the origin of life, but points out that we can’t be sure that the chemistry of modern cells reflects the chemical conditions in which the first cells emerged.

If dynamic disequilibrium is required, and “we can’t be sure that the chemistry of modern cells reflects the chemical conditions in which the first cells emerged,” then the origin of life has no traceable history.

See also: If today’s origin of life theorists are right, life did not originate.

Robert, interesting thoughts. I would be interested in seeing your paper. Would it be possible for you to post a link to it? Eric Anderson
I commented on this thread a few posts ago, and it is reassuring to see Szostak agreeing with me. ;) However I would point out that we not only don't know how life originated, but we don't even know where. Hoover's paper on microfossils in meteorites establishes that OOL could have been on another planet in another solar system. And finally, I submitted a paper last year in the Springer-Verlag COLE series (Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology) that argues against warm ponds for multiple reasons, but principally because the same things that make it good place to grow--temperature, nutrients, water--make it a terrible place to add information, and before there was life, all we had were adders (think Craig Venter and synthetic life). Robert Sheldon

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