McMaster researchers have pioneered ground-breaking technology that could – for the first time – provide experimental evidence of how life was formed on the early Earth and show whether life could have emerged elsewhere in the universe. McMaster’s new Origins of Life Laboratory which features a Planetary Simulator, a highly sophisticated climate chamber – the only one of its kind in the world – enables researchers to mimic the environmental conditions present on the early Earth, or on Earth-like planets, to explore how the building blocks of life were assembled and how these prebiotic molecules transitioned into self-replicating RNA molecules, the first genetic material found in all life today.
Many scientists theorize that life on Earth began 3.5 billion to 4.5 years ago in what Charles Darwin called “warm little ponds” – hydrothermal springs found in volcanic environments in which nucleotides, the essential biomolecules needed for the emergence of life, mixed with the amino acids, lipid molecules, clays and rocks, and inorganic salts contained in the ponds. According to exhaustive research published last year by Pudritz and Ben K. Pearce – both of McMaster’s Department of Physics and Astronomy – chains of RNA polymers were created when nucleotides, formed from nucleobases delivered by meteorites into these ponds, were bonded together as a result of wet and dry cycles of precipitation, evaporation and drainage.Erica Balch, “Ground-breaking lab poised to unlock the mystery of the origins of life on Earth and beyond” at Brighter World (McMaster University)
Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon responds,
I love physicists! Their hubris knows no bounds. If only our hearts could remain as pure and simple as a physicist’s in a chemistry hood. Only a physicist could look at an insoluble biochemistry problem and say, “We’ve built a chamber which we can change the temperature and gas content. PV=nRT, and poof
!,we’ll show the chemists how their tough problem is solved properly. Pressure and temperature, and maybe some cosmic rays, and that OoL conundrum will fall apart like boiled chicken.”
So here’s my prediction. After a few million dollars, 100 graduate student lifetimes and about 10 years, they will say. “Well, what do you know–we learned a lot about non-equilibrium statistical mechanics and by
gumit’s impossible to solve OoL with a gas chamber and a bicycle pump! But look at what we can do with our computer simulations!
Well, you have to admit that they do sound pretty self-assured for so difficult a problem.
Note: McMaster is the home of Bert Brockhaus, who won a Nobel in physics in 1994, neutron spectroscopy but that doesn;t justify self-assurance here.
See also: Welcome to RNA World: The five-star hotel of origin-of-life theories
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