Steve Benner: We have failed in any continuous way to provide a recipe that gets from the simple molecules that we know were present on early Earth to RNA. There is a discontinuous model which has many pieces, many of which have experimental support, but we’re up against these three or four paradoxes, which you and I have talked about in the past. 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.
Suzan Mazur: I think things are shifting to nonmaterial events.
Steve Benner: That’s right. I think you’re right about that. We have been trying for close to 10 years now to get what we call dynamic kinetic systems, a collection of small molecules interacting with each other, maybe some catalyzing transformations of others, a non-linear feedback, some kind of amplification and trying to find working examples, recipes, where you can actually go back and mix something and see something. We are finding all sorts of problems in getting behavior that we find useful, let alone Darwinian out of this. I’m hoping to walk out of the Gordon conference for sure with a clear understanding of how life originated by one of these schemes — a dynamic scheme that involves A interacting with D interacting with C, back to A without my having– More.
“We are finding all sorts of problems in getting behavior that we find useful, let alone Darwinian out of this”?
Really? No guff? Hmm.
Only so long you can bang your head against a wall before the wall complains.
Note: The written text of Benner’s second comment ends with the double hyphen break above. The interview itself continues.