Origin Of Life

Researchers propose trying different recipes for prebiotic soup

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Abstract: “Prebiotic soup” often features in discussions of origins of life research, both as a theoretical concept when discussing abiological pathways to modern biochemical building blocks and, more recently, as a feedstock in prebiotic chemistry experiments focused on discovering emergent, systems-level processes such as polymerization, encapsulation, and evolution. However, until now, little systematic analysis has gone into the design of well-justified prebiotic mixtures, which are needed to facilitate experimental replicability and comparison among researchers. This paper explores principles that should be considered in choosing chemical mixtures for prebiotic chemistry experiments by reviewing the natural environmental conditions that might have created such mixtures and then suggests reasonable guidelines for designing recipes. We discuss both “assembled” mixtures, which are made by mixing reagent grade chemicals, and “synthesized” mixtures, which are generated directly from diversity-generating primary prebiotic syntheses. We discuss different practical concerns including how to navigate the tremendous uncertainty in the chemistry of the early Earth and how to balance the desire for using prebiotically realistic mixtures with experimental tractability and replicability. Examples of two assembled mixtures, one based on materials likely delivered by carbonaceous meteorites and one based on spark discharge synthesis, are presented to illustrate these challenges. We explore alternative procedures for making synthesized mixtures using recursive chemical reaction systems whose outputs attempt to mimic atmospheric and geochemical synthesis. Other experimental conditions such as pH and ionic strength are also considered. We argue that developing a handful of standardized prebiotic recipes may facilitate coordination among researchers and enable the identification of the most promising mechanisms by which complex prebiotic mixtures were “tamed” during the origin of life to give rise to key living processes such as self-propagation, information processing, and adaptive evolution. We end by advocating for the development of a public prebiotic chemistry database containing experimental methods (including soup recipes), results, and analytical pipelines for analyzing complex prebiotic mixtures.

Vincent, L.; Colón-Santos, S.; Cleaves, H.J., II; Baum, D.A.; Maurer, S.E. The Prebiotic Kitchen: A Guide to Composing Prebiotic Soup Recipes to Test Origins of Life Hypotheses. Life 2021, 11, 1221. https://doi.org/10.3390/life11111221

The paper is open access.

How would they know — assuming they came up with something that worked — that that’s what actually happened?

Really, this is a life-in-the-lab experiment, not a recreation of the steps to life.

You may also wish to read: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips – origin of life What we do and don’t know about the origin of life.

10 Replies to “Researchers propose trying different recipes for prebiotic soup

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Just from the basics, it seems strange to start with a liquid. Living things are solid, not liquid. More complex life uses liquids in complex hydraulic ways, but the life itself is never liquid.

  2. 2
    martin_r says:

    of life to give rise to key living processes such as self-propagation, information processing, and adaptive evolution.

    i don’t want to be rude, but sometimes i really think, that Darwinian OOL researchers are somehow retarded …

    Mixing up, cooling down, heating up some chemicals you get information processing ??????

    Mixing up, cooling down, heating up some chemicals you get the most sophisticated technology in the universe ?

    Do these guys even understand what is going on inside a cell ?


    PS: “assembled” mixtures”, ““synthesized” mixtures”, or whatever mixtures, why don’t they take any mixture they want to assemble life in their fancy labs ????? Instead of it, every new day another just-so story …

  3. 3
    doubter says:


    I think you just about summed it up. James Tour would probably be even more scathing in his evaluation.

  4. 4
    EvilSnack says:

    I was always curious about the assertion that the early Earth was a reducing environment. Is this deducible from observation, or was it assumed because otherwise the pet theory (which we “know” to have happened) becomes impossible?

  5. 5
    Belfast says:

    The articles, (there are 2) are very useful as a conspectus of the poverty stricken nature of the hypotheses of chemical evolution, though likely not intended as such.
    In the first, they ask the question how to get life’s necessary organic chemicals from inorganic chemicals under pre-biotic conditions. To do that they have to simulate those conditions while admitting there is no accepted theory. They then take a punt by way of encouraging researchers to work on this. The implication is that there is no point going further unless this nut is cracked.
    In the second, they set up 7 serious issues that need solving BEFORE real experiments even begin to establish life originating naturally within the laws of physics and chemistry.
    The assumption is inherent that the earth’s atmosphere and other conditions have been settled before experiments start.
    But even with this mighty assumption the problems posed are confessedly formidable.
    I had the impression that they have simply condensed Dr. Tour’s objections into a relatively short read without mentioning his name or solving any of the problems.

  6. 6
    EDTA says:

    They describe what they are doing with words like “design”, “assembled”, and “synthesized. That says it all.

  7. 7
    Querius says:

    Agreed. Any reactions in a “pre-biotic soup” producing anything complex would quickly fall apart. The purity of the results would be compromised, and the speed, timing, temperature, radiation, splashing, and separation would all have to be miraculous. I think Dr. Tour would simply say, “Ok, show me.”

    I liked when Dr. Tour suggested (IIRC) to use a blender to create a biotic bacterial smoothie and then try to to steer it into restoring living bacteria out of it.

    So, instead of a naturally occurring pre-biotic soup, why not set the bar a whole lot lower? See whether you can create a steaming bowl of nutritious (or at least not disgusting or poisonous) “post-biotic” soup?

    Start with seawater heating up by sunlight in a tide pool . . . feed it to a starving grad student to see whether it worked . . .


  8. 8
    martin_r says:


    I liked when Dr. Tour suggested (IIRC) to use a blender to create a biotic bacterial smoothie and then try to to steer it into restoring living bacteria out of it.

    another suggestion to Darwinian OOL researchers:

    take a dead cell and make it work again … all components are already there …
    no need to invent any new ‘mixtures’ …

    just make it work … should be easy … and please no more just-so stories … after 150 years years of Darwinism and evolution theory we heard lots of them …


  9. 9
    martin_r says:

    i was curious what is the status of Jack Szostak’s OOL research. So i googled a little.

    Look here, an article from January 2021 ….


    Remember, in 2014, there was an interview with Jack Szostak and he said, that he will create “LIFE IN LAB” in 3-5 years, most likely in 3 years (he said that in 2014)

    So look here, look what he is saying in 2021 :))))) It is so embarrassing …. do these guys ever feel embarrassed ? And don’t forget, this guy is a Nobel laurate !!!

    He spent 20 years of his professional life in OOL research, and he got nothing… but after all that, he does not feel embarrassed to use words like “creating life is easy” :)))) this is UNBELIEVABLE !!!

    University of Chicago, 2021:


  10. 10
    Querius says:


    Hilarious! Here are some of my favorite quotes . . .

    Jack Szostak: When you have like a large meteorite or a comet strike the planet, one of the key things is that you have fractured rock and it’s hot and water circulates through it and it extracts compounds from the rocks and brings them up to the surface, so you can see that kind of thing happening, for example, in Yellowstone.

    Jack Szostak: Then what you need is surface environments where these chemical feedstocks can be concentrated, they can come together, and start to react with each other. Then there’s a whole series of pathways where you build up gradually more complicated molecules and there’s been a huge amount of work from other labs, gradually unraveling how you actually can make not just a random collection of thousands of millions of different compounds, but just the subset that you want to build life. To me, the most interesting questions are once you’ve got those correct chemicals in the right environment, how do they get together and what are the processes that give rise to the first cells?

    We’re now back to pre-biological alchemy and fairy tales!


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