In “Deflating the synthetic proofs of the RNA World” (08/04/11) David Tyler comments at Access Research Network on the failing “RNA world” claims for origin of life, via James Shapiro’s review of David Deamer’s recent book:
The dominant contemporary theoretical approach to abiogenesis is known as the RNA World. The basic idea is that an RNA strand appeared spontaneously in the Archaean era of the early Earth. This RNA molecule had the ability to replicate itself. Shapiro says: “The advantage of this idea is that the formation of just one polymer would be all that was needed to get life started. The disadvantage is that such an event would be staggeringly improbable.” There are chemical problems just getting the RNA strand, but added to this are the problems of achieving replication. This is why some scientists have chosen to opt out of the RNA World paradigm and attempt to develop a rather different approach.
But isn’t Darwinism all-powerful? Isn’t that enough? Says Shapiro:
“Deamer’s thesis diverges from the standard RNA-world concept. He focuses not on the generation of a naked RNA-like polymer, but on the formation of a simple cell-like compartment, or vesicle. Modern cells are enclosed by a complex fatty membrane, which prevents leakage. Vesicles with similar properties have been formed in the lab from certain fatty acids. Deamer holds that the spontaneous formation of vesicles, into which RNA could be incorporated, was a crucial step in life’s origin. Unfortunately, his theory retains the improbable generation of self-replicating polymers such as RNA.”
That last comment from Shapiro reveals that he is not very impressed with Deamer’s alternative proposal. But he also knows that a review is not the best platform to promote one’s own approach. So the conclusion majors on a plea for more realism about the demerits of the RNA World and less deductive thinking about the nature of Archaean geochemistry.