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Origin of life researchers, approaching 2014 conference, sound glum about progress

File:Phospholipids aqueous solution structures.svg
self-organizing phospholipids/Villarreal

Further to the thesis that the lunar ice could be hiding the building blocks of life, a revealing origin of life event will be held this year, following an international OOL conference hosted by Japan: Open Questions on the Origin of Life …

The scientific question about the origin of life is still unanswered: it is still one of the great mystery that science is facing. We all accept the 1924 idea of Oparin, according to which life originated from the inanimate matter through a long series of step of increasing molecular complexity and functionality. The real mile stone came 1953 with Stanley Miller flask experiments, showing that amino acids can be formed under prebiotic conditions from a mixture of gas presumably present in the prebiotic atmosphere. Which conceptual progress have we made since then? It is too much to say that we didn’t really make any, if we look at data under really and honest prebiotic conditions?

Adding that this situation is not due to shortage of means and finances in the field- but to a real lack of difficulty to conceive conceptually how this nonliving-living passage really took place?

This is perhaps a too provocative way to introduce the OQOL workshop which will take place at the IIAS (International Institute for Advanced Studies) of Japan and July 12-13, 2014. In fact, while the larger ISSOL meeting should shed light on the new results and progress, the purpose of the OQOL workshop is to indicate instead the shadowy, un-answered aspects of the field. …

Would it be fair to say no progress so far, and none in sight?

The difficulty is that, depending on how one defines the task, it may be impossible. They may be looking for things that did not happen, or in ways those things couldn’t have happened.

They hope to refine their discussion to seven questions. We just hope there’s a transcript.

Maybe they should invite Jerry Coyne as a keynoter. Coyne solves the problem handily: He won’t debate doubters like Moshe Averick. 😉

See also: Is there a good reason to believe that life’s origin must be a fully natural event?


Does nature just “naturally” produce life?

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At this conference, they will discuss 7 open questions out of the list of these 15:
Proposed Open Questions in OQOL2014 The following is the 15 open questions for your vote. 01. How can we make ordered sequences of amino acids, or mononucleotides by prebiotic means? This question is in fact never asked in the modern research on the origin of life. Do you agree then that we do not know how to make macromolecular sequences in many identical copies under prebiotic conditions? Do we have to wait for this orderly sequence until the genetic code has been developed? 02. Why is the origin of life still a mystery? Premise: Why is the origin of life still a mystery? The turning point nonlife-life has never been put into one experimental set up-actually it has never be clarified from a conceptual point of view either. There are of course several hypotheses, and this plethora of ideas means already that WE DO NOT HAVE A CONVINCING ONE! The most popular is with the RNA-world prebiotic scenario, which has the advantage of providing on paper a theoretical series of IMAGINARY events, each however with an UNINAMIGINABLY SMALL PROBABILITY (be the prebiotic production of a self-replicating RNA, and its eventual transformation into a catalyst for DNA and independently for protein synthesis) Why should this happen, and what about the genetic code? Aside from the problem of experimental implementation, don’t you think we lack (until now) the capability of intellectually conceiving how the turning point really happened? 03. Is the molecular crowding critical for the beginning of life? Quite a dense concentration of macromolecules in cells: Is it an essential condition for origin of life? If so, how was the concentration acquired before the origin of life? Or, was it a result of the evolutionary process? 04. Can Artificial Life or Synthetic Biology contribute to the origin of life? Artificial life deals with life as it might have been. UP UNTIL NOW THESE EFFORTS HAVE NOT BEEN VERY SUCCESSFUL, and IT ALMOST APPEARS THAT THERE ARE NO FORMS OF LIFE SIMPLER THAN “OUR” LIFE. Do you have any data that imply alternative forms of life (still within the general category of metabolism + self-reproduction + evolvability) with molecules different from the biological ones? Or, do you think that synthetic biology research can provide a model or theory for the origin of life study? 05. Can catalysts come out from the free ticket of thermodynamics? 06. Can we construct real RNA world and RNA-based biological systems in a test tube? At the early stage of RNA world, RNA molecules should have no functional property. What physical or chemical process mediates the selection of specific RNA? Even when functional RNA enzymes are generated, it still remains a challenge to construct sustained self-replication and metabolic system in which multiple RNA molecules function cooperatively. Once we can construct the precursor of a replication system by a set of RNA molecules, is it possible to emulate another path of evolution in a test tube? 07. What is the origin of genetic code?: Investigating DESIGN PRINCIPLE of aa-tRNA and aa-RS? The genetic code is most essential part for the genetic systems. In the context of the origin of life, a major issue on the genetic code is to understand how the materials relevant to genetic code that can translate the sequence of four bases into a polypeptide. … Can we find or design simple aa-RS and aa-tRNA from the cocktail of molecules (e.g., amino acid, tRNA(-like) molecule, and ATP), which might be relevant to the origin of translation and genetic code? What features are required as a mechanism that ensures robust translation? 08. Prior to genetic code: Is the notion of prebiotic cells conceivable? The simplest cells on our Earth contain at least 500–600 genes, and more generally several thousand. This observation elicits the question, whether this high complexity is really necessary for the simplest form of cellular life, also in view of the fact that early cells in the origin of life and evolution could not have been as complex as modern cells…. Do you think it is possible to construct in the laboratory, models of early cells, displaying a kind of primitive cellular life (self-maintenance + self-reproduction + evolvability), based on a number of genes which is one order of magnitude smaller than the present day simplest cells. Say a living cell with 30–40 genes? [I’d like to know how they can come up with even one gene!] 09. What is the list of prebiotic molecules present in primodal cells? The “free ticket” of thermodynamic control is however not sufficient: if a chemist is given all these compounds in any amount he wishes, he would be unable to make life. For making life, one needs a series of additional reactions and products under kinetic control – enzymes and nucleic acids are not with us because they are the most stable chains. Thus, the origin of life can be traced back to the origin of kinetic control. Do you agree with this statement; and how would you envisage the prebiotic evolutionary bridge between thermodynamic and kinetic control? 10. On Contingency vs. Determinism The proteins (or nucleic acids) existing on our Earth correspond to an infinitesimal part of the theoretically possible sequences – the ratio between possible and existing structures corresponds more or less to the ratio between the space of the universe and the space occupied by one hydrogen atom. The above ratio can be interpreted as an indication that our “few” proteins have not been selected primarily because of distinctive properties (such as thermodynamic or thermal stability, solubility, particular kinetic processes of formation etc…) – but rather due to a most significant contribution of the vagaries of contingency. Do you agree with this statement, and with its corollary, that then life on our Earth, which is based on these “few” proteins, is not an obligatory pathway, but is largely based on contingency? 11. How to Make Prebiotically Long Hetero-Peptides or Hetero-Nucleotides? There are no or rather scanty reports in the literature on how to make under prebiotic conditions long – say 30 residues – specific sequences of co-oligopolypeptides (or polynucleotides) in many identical copies containing say five to six different amino acid residues or three to four bases (the Merrifield method cannot be considered a prebiotic method)… Do you agree then that we do not know – neither conceptually nor experimentally – how to make macromolecular sequences in many identical copies under prebiotic conditions? And if it so, would you not conclude that the bottom-up (sentence ends abruptly) 12. On the origin of catalytic cycles The question. How do you envisage the origin of sequentially catalytized reactions in a prebiotic scenario? And can you provide facts or scientific arguments, not simply beliefs, about this critical point? 13. Life as unity or confederacy 14. Universality – What properties of life are universal? 15. What is the physical mechanisms underlying the assembly of primitive cell-like structures?
These questions give you a good idea of what scientists do NOT know and what problems they are still facing. There is a further explanation of the problem under each question at the following web page: http://www.lifephys.dis.titech.ac.jp/oqol2014/?page_id=180 tjguy
When debating evolutionists, I notice that when you state that it is mathematically impossible for the key components of life to have arranged themselves by accident, they state that evolution doesn’t deal with the origin of life.
Yes, this is one of the rhetorical ploys of the materialist evolutionist. Their doctrine is that everything comes about as a result of particles bumping into each other over time, but when pushed into a corner on OOL, they quickly say, "Well, that is not a problem for evolution, we don't have to deal with that." Notwithstanding the fact that nearly every biology textbook that discusses evolution includes origin of life generally and, often, the Miller-Urey experiment specifically, as part of the overall concept of "evolution." The fact is, the word "evolution" is used in many different senses, and one sense most definitely includes origin of life. Furthermore, most evolutionists aren't really opposed to the origin of life being part of evolutionary theory. Rather, they just think once a "self-replicating molecule" exists, then Darwinian evolution can take over to produce first life. So it is really just that elusive first self-reproducing molecule they are hoping for, after which the magic of evolution takes over.* And if they aren't willing to look squarely in the face of the probabilities of an initial self-reproducing molecule or simple self-reproducing organism as part of evolutionary theory, then we can ask, "So, you would be willing to consider, then, the possibility that first life was designed?" That usually brings them scurrying out of their rhetorical hiding place. However, even if we grant that OOL is not part of evolutionary theory proper, it doesn't get us anywhere interesting. The fact is that random mutations (the key engine of evolutionary change, certainly early on) have no possibility of producing the kinds of systems we see in living organisms. So even assuming the existence of a first, fully-functional, self-reproducing organism (as Darwin did in The Origin) the math is definitely against the evolutionary storyline. The good thing about focusing on OOL, however, is that it strips the materialist of the mystical and magical wand of "natural selection" that they think can be simply waved over any problem in biology. ----- * I always laugh when I hear references to that first self-reproducing molecule. While critical to the materialist evolutionary creation myth, such an entity has never been seen or observed. And there is good reason to think such a thing has never existed. But a story for another time perhaps . . . Eric Anderson
Hello Design, Good Question. Unless one wants to simply throw up their hands at a chance organization, the ATP system couldn't be organized without the translation process. So, obviously, that would lead one to suspect translation occurred prior to ATP. What is most interesting from a purely physical standpoint, is that an irreducibly complex system of representations and transfer protocols had to precede the translation process. From an environment absent any organization whatsoever stemming from translated information, they had to rise in order to bridge the discontinuity between nucleotides and proteins (i.e. the medium and its effect) while simultaneously preserving it. It's just amazing what chance can do. ;) Upright BiPed
Which came first? The generation of ATP which requires the use of proteins and enzymes, or the transcription/translation mechanisms that produce proteins and enzymes but requires ATP. Design
When debating evolutionists, I notice that when you state that it is mathematically impossible for the key components of life to have arranged themselves by accident, they state that evolution doesn't deal with the origin of life. mjazzguitar
Finding amino acids in a Miller-Urey flask and saying it shows how life could have started spontaneously on the early earth is like finding a bag of LEGO blocks and saying it shows how LEGO art could have spontaneously formed on a table top. M. Holcumbrink
chris haynes, Yes, the racemic mixture is an issue. But as far as "glitches" for OOL, there are several more. Miller-Urey, if viewed objectively and without the rose-colored glasses of materialism, teaches us just how far away purely natural processes are from forming anything even approaching life. Eric Anderson
The little glitch with Miller and Urey was in the amino acids that they made. Amino acid molecules can be either right or left handed. Living things are made out of right handed ones. However Miller and Urey made racemic acids, which are mixed up, both right and left handed. So Origin-of-Life-wise, their efforts were useless. But their discovery was still a Great Moment in Science. Shampoo can be made from racemic acids. chris haynes
The real mile stone came 1953 with Stanley Miller flask experiments, showing that amino acids can be formed under prebiotic conditions from a mixture of gas presumably present in the prebiotic atmosphere.
Did I not get the memo? I thought this has been debunked... cantor
I believe that a name is needed for the Settled Science on the Origin of Life Here's the concept: "Life originated from the inanimate matter through a long series of step of increasing molecular complexity and functionality" How about this name: Stalinist Abiogenesis It honors the Great Benefactor of the Scientists who gave us the concept. chris haynes
And would also note that even Davies's approach, since he doesn't include consciousness in his 'conceptual level', falls far short explaining the 'origin of life' bornagain77
as to: "Adding that this situation is not due to shortage of means and finances in the field- but to a real lack of difficulty to conceive conceptually how this nonliving-living passage really took place?" How we could create life: The key to existence will be found not in primordial sludge, but in the nanotechnology of the living cell - Paul Davies - 2002 Excerpt: Instead, the living cell is best thought of as a supercomputer – an information processing and replicating system of astonishing complexity. DNA is not a special life-giving molecule, but a genetic databank that transmits its information using a mathematical code. Most of the workings of the cell are best described, not in terms of material stuff – hardware – but as information, or software. Trying to make life by mixing chemicals in a test tube is like soldering switches and wires in an attempt to produce Windows 98. It won’t work because it addresses the problem at the wrong conceptual level. - Paul Davies http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2002/dec/11/highereducation.uk bornagain77
The Shrouding of Origin of Life Research - Dec. 14, 2013 Excerpt: we’re up against these three or four paradoxes (for the origin of biological life),,, The first paradox is the tendency of organic matter to devolve and to give tar. If you can avoid that, you can start to try to assemble things that are not tarry, but then you encounter the water problem, which is related to the fact that every interesting bond that you want to make is unstable, thermodynamically, with respect to water. If you can solve that problem, you have the problem of entropy that any of the building blocks are going to be present in a low concentration; therefore, to assemble a large number of those building blocks, you get a gene-like RNA — 100 nucleotides long — that fights entropy. And the fourth problem is that even if you can solve the entropy problem, you have a paradox that RNA enzymes, which are maybe catalytically active, are more likely to be active in the sense that destroys RNA rather than creates RNA.”,,, http://www.darwinthenandnow.com/2013/12/the-shrouding-of-origin-of-life-research/ bornagain77
Incredible!! An honest and obvious commentary, about the failure of the Origin of Life Boondoggle, from a Scientist. Interesting that it comes from Japan. Its a country isolated by distance, language, and culture. So much so, that outrageous rank heresy is allowed. In the mainstream West, we discuss with a straight face whether life began on the Moon . Fortunately, we can depend on Scientists getting the Japanese back on the reservation. chris haynes
The materialists' scope for defining 'life' is fundamentally defective, even granted gratuitous and insanely improbable abiogenesis as the origin of life, since there is the little problem of assigning how Mother Nature's designs, her ongoing caring role (when she's not acting as if 'red in tooth and claw') is to be explained. Is this too, a matter of random chance, Nature, as a great juggernaut carrying all before it in its artistic and scientific brilliance - but caring with it? A wonderful god, to be sure, is random chance: the secret of gaia! Everything watched over by the all-seeing eye of the blind watchmaker, as a 'mother hen her brood'. Pro magnam gloriam fortunae aleatoriae (my own cod Latin motto for our friends). Odd to think that the least obiter dicta of Dawkins are relayed by friend and foe alike, as if he had as much as half a brain-cell that wasn't undercut by his dogged, religious fundamentalism. Future generations will marvel at it. The power of our depraved media to write the playbook to which all must advert from time to time. Axel
Throughout history there have been valuable scientific results as spinoffs (such as accidental discoveries) that stemmed from the original research. That, IMO, is the only merit to Materialistic OOL research. These people are guided by a worldview (Materialism) in which a purely natural, unguided OOL did "in fact" occur. They have no other option left to them. But they are wrong. They can work for 1,000 years and spend trillions of dollars - they will never get life to originate without intelligent input and guidance - physics and mathematics prohibit it. So look for any spinoff results while they waste the rest of their labor and resources on a futile search. Jorge

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