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Rob Sheldon on the Canadian lab “solving” the origin-of-life problem

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Impact crater/NASA

It’s an RNA world thesis that relies on wet and dry cycles:

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 gum it’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.

The Long Ascent: Genesis 1â  11 in Science & Myth, Volume 1 by [Sheldon, Robert]

Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent.

See also: Welcome to RNA World: The five-star hotel of origin-of-life theories

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So they haven't done the chemistry yet, or produced any RNA polymers, but they are sure that, "chains of RNA polymers were created when nucleotides, formed from nucleobases delivered by meteorites into these ponds, were bonded together", based on their "exhaustive research". None of the usual, "could have", "might have", and "plausible pathway" prevarication of other OOL articles. Such is the unshakable optimism of OOL researchers! Oh, but they do have this "highly sophisticated climate chamber", so surely the OOL answers can't be far off? In another year we'll read about the wonderful "OOL breakthrough" wherein they forced two RNA molecules to bond under some extreme combination of conditions which could not possibly have occurred on Earth. I will wait with bated breath! Fasteddious
yes, these guys are very self-assured and sooo proud ... obviously, they will never comprehend, that a cell is a very advanced SELF-REPLICATING design beyond our comprehension... These guys should talk to a Nobel price laureate Jack Szostak... he can tell... In 2014 Jack Szostak said "Life in Lab In 3 - 5 Years, more likely in 3 years..." http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1406/S00007/jack-szostak-life-in-lab-in-3-5-years.htm This was in 2014, so Szostak is slightly behind the schedule... So despite this prediction, still no 'life in lab' instead of that, Jack Szostak, a Noble price laureate, retracted his 2016 paper on Origin of Life research: ”Definitely embarrassing:” Nobel Laureate retracts non-reproducible paper in Nature journal" https://retractionwatch.com/2017/12/05/definitely-embarrassing-nobel-laureate-retracts-non-reproducible-paper-nature-journal/ martin_r

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