Astrobiology Origin Of Life

At Have Astronomers Found Life’s Building Blocks?

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Astrophysicist Hugh Ross reports:

For at least five decades, proponents of a naturalistic origin of life have been searching for evidence of the RNA world hypothesis. The RNA world is a proposed step in the evolution of life on Earth in which self-replicating RNA molecules preceded genetic material and proteins. Life on Earth appeared suddenly about 3.8 billion years ago. However, evidence for organic molecules that could possibly give rise to RNA is lacking on Earth; thus, astrobiologists believe the building blocks of life must reside in interstellar space.

Precursor Molecules
In 1969, a team of four astronomers led by Lewis Snyder discovered formaldehyde (H2CO) in an interstellar molecular cloud.1

Two months ago, the list of discovered distinct carbonaceous organic polyatomic molecules found in interstellar molecular clouds stood at 152.3

Now, astronomers have added four nitriles to the list.4 Nitriles are a class of organic molecules with a cyano group. A cyano group is a carbon atom bound with a triple unsaturated bond to a nitrogen atom. Cyanos are typically very toxic. Sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide are well-known examples.

One of chemistry’s great enigmas is that nitriles are key precursor molecules of the nucleobases, which when joined to a ribose and a phosphate molecule comprise the fundamental building blocks of RNA and DNA molecules. RNA molecules together with DNA molecules, proteins, and lipids are the molecules every organism possesses and without which no life-form can possibly survive.

Discovered Nitriles
A team of thirteen astrobiologists led by Victor Rivilla used the world’s most sensitive millimeter-wave radio telescopes, the IRAM 30-meter and the Yebes 40-meter telescopes in Spain, to search in the giant molecular cloud, G+0.693-0.027, near the center of our galaxy 26,673 light-years away for the spectral signatures of seven nitriles.5

Rivilla’s team detected the following four nitriles: cyanic acid, cyanoallene, propargyl cyanide, and cyanopropyne.

The measured abundance levels for the detected nitriles were very low. Even the simplest one, cyanic acid (HOCN), measured rare. Rivilla’s team determined that in G+0.693-0.027 there is only one molecule of cyanic acid for every 6 billion molecules of molecular hydrogen (H2).8

Origin of Life Implications
The British newspaper, The Telegraph, in the headline of their report on the Rivilla team’s discoveries stated that the “building blocks of life” found by the team “suggests we are not alone.”10 One of Rivilla’s coauthors, Miguel Requena-Torres, was quoted as saying to Sarah Knapton, science editor for The Telegraph, “We now know that nitriles are among the most abundant chemical families in the universe.”11 By “chemical families,” Requena-Torres had to be referring to precursor molecules for nucleobases and amino acids. Another coauthor, Izaskun Jiménez-Serra, referring to such precursor molecules, said “There are still key missing molecules.”12

In the conclusion to their paper, Rivilla’s team noted that nitriles are not a direct precursor to either nucleobases or amino acids. The early Earth’s atmosphere would need to have been chemically reducing and must have contained high amounts of ammonia for amidines to possibly form from nitriles. Several amidines are direct precursors for nucleobases and amino acids. However, as we explained and documented in our book Origins of Life, Earth’s early atmosphere was neither reducing nor did it contain more than a trace amount of ammonia.13

What Ravilla’s team found were a few of the hundred-plus molecules that are the “building blocks of the building blocks of the building blocks” of life molecules. They found them at abundance levels far below what is needed for any conceivable naturalistic model for life’s origin. And they found them in an interstellar molecular cloud where the chemical reactions that produce them are counterbalanced by chemical reactions that destroy them.

Thus, Ravilla’s team’s detections do not, as they claim, provide support for the RNA world hypothesis for the origin of life.

Rather, their detections provide additional confirmation for what Fazale Rana and I heard Leslie Orgel, the father of the RNA world hypothesis, say in the opening plenary session message at the 2002 International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life conference, “It would be a miracle if a strand of RNA ever appeared on the primitive Earth.”

What seems miraculous from a naturalistic perspective can be explained from a creation perspective as the work of a supernatural Creator. As proclaimed in Psalm 104:24, “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”

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One Reply to “At Have Astronomers Found Life’s Building Blocks?

  1. 1
    Belfast says:

    I believe it’s accepted that when a headline ends with a query, the answer is “No”.

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