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From the Origin of life news desk: Ammonia from meteors kickstarted life


From New Scientist, we learn “Meteorite cargo could solve origin-of-life riddle” (01 March 2011) Andy Coghlan because

A chemical vital for life on Earth may have arrived ready-made from space. Unexpectedly, a chondritic meteorite has been found to contain large amounts of ammonia, a nitrogen-rich chemical needed to form the basic building blocks of life, including proteins, DNA and RNA.

Just how early Earth acquired sufficient ammonia for life processes has been a puzzle because the gas is destroyed by sunlight, and the assumed early environment didn’t favour ammonia production. However, some enterprising researchers exposed chondritic meteorite dust to water at 300 ̊C, and then compressed it beneath 100 megapascals of pressure, to mimic early Earth conditions. The ammonia, they reported, yielded 60 per cent of the nitrogen in the resulting powder.

Kee says that buried within the meteorite dust, the ammonia would potentially be shielded from destruction by sunlight, and therefore able to participate in reactions to create the building blocks of life.

Pizzarello speculates that the meteorite must have originated from asteroids or other environments where ammonia was a dominant chemical.

I wonder whether origin of life theory, in principle, will ever get beyond speculation. Of course it is interesting; old cold cases usually are. It’s precisely the old and the cold that makes them so. But they are festooned with conjecture: may have, might have, could have … Then I am jolted back to reality by a simple question: What if the postmistress phoned and said, “O’Leary? There may be a package waiting here. It might be for you. It could have come from Saskatchewan.”

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t run out to collect it.

This is like modifying the theory of 747-creation from "a tornado in a junkpile" to "a meteorite hits a junkpile". SCheesman
If the phrases "could have", "may have", "might possibly" and "has been proposed" were excluded, there would be no papers published in origin-of-life chemistry. And that would be preferable to the overhyped stuff that does get published, leaving the seriously inaccurate impression that we have made significant progress in understanding how life might arise from chemicals. There are two aspects that contribute to this: downplaying the complexity of even the simplest imaginable life, and way overstating the importance of the speculative findings in the field. For example, amino acids are supposed to be "the building blocks of life: I dare anyone to make anything remotely functional (say, an enzyme) using the few amino acids, all racemic, that even the now thoroughly-discredited Miller-Urey conditions made. Then consider that even a functional enzyme is light years from a living system. So, dear materialist friends, please don't even think about being bothered that people don't buy the materialist mythology. Gage

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