Origin of Life Studies Show Signs of Desperation

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Posted on May 9, 2014 in Cell Biology, Darwin and Evolution, Dating Methods, Dumb Ideas, Geology, Origin of Life, Philosophy of Science, Physics

There is no coherent origin of life scenario among evolutionists, just a collection of odd possibilities – some bordering on the absurd.

Deep-sixing the deep sea vent hypothesisAstrobiology Magazine, ever eager to justify its evidence-free subject, shows a group of happy young researchers out on a cruise.  Within the article about deep-sea vents as possible spots for the origin of life (the “metabolism-first” scenario) is this confession: “it may not have been as easy as previously assumed.”  The theory was appealing, but researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute were “surprised by what they found” when they went to test the metabolism-first theory by looking for methanethiol, believed to be a “precursor of life.”  It should be abundant around black smoker vents because of all the available hydrogen.  Contrary to expectations, they found very little.  “Overall, this means that jump-starting proto-metabolic reactions in hydrogen-rich early Earth hydrothermal systems through carbon-sulfur chemistry would likely have been much harder than many had assumed.”  This “disappointing” finding indicates that the chemical is not being produced abiotically, but only with the involvement of living organisms.  In order to turn this work into something “exciting,” they spun the story to focus on the possibility of more life below the seafloor than was previously known.  (This, of course, does not explain where that life came from.)  Maybe, too, the detection of methanethiol on Europa or an exoplanet could be an indicator life is present.  Not deterred by the falsification, they maintained their faith: “The hydrothermal environment is still a perfect place to support early life, and the question of how it all started is still open.

You can see what Michael Russell, one of the chief proponents of the metabolism-first theory (see 2/15/08), looks like in a JPL press release.  Sample of his philosophy: “Life takes advantage of unbalanced states on the planet, which may have been the case billions of years ago at the alkaline hydrothermal vents,” said Russell. “Life is the process that resolves these disequilibria.”  But where does life come from to resolve it?  Can unguided geological processes bring forth life just because they need a resolution?  Russell admits that experiments to back up his “water worlds” theory of life’s origin at hydrothermal vents are “jaw-droppingly difficult” to design, but he’s still trying after 25 years with no fruit. “For now, the ultimate question of whether the alkaline hydrothermal vents are the hatcheries of life remains unanswered,” the press release ends, still trying to keep hope alive.

Some guys at Cambridge are also looking for ways to get metabolism going before life.  They examined how some metabolic-like reactions could occur without enzymes.  They swept a little follow-up problem under the rug.  PhysOrg, however, tacked it on at the end:  “How the first enzymes adopted the metal-catalyzed reactions described by the scientists remains to be established.”  New Scientist provided no such reader warnings in its optimistic coverage of this “spark of life” scenario with its “happy accident” leading to the complex life we know today.

Bombs as the source of life:  A meteor impact in Germany could have felt the force of 1.8 million Hiroshima bombs.  Seems hardly a place to look for the origin of life, but Science Magazine said in a bold headline, “Meteorite Impacts Could Have Fostered Life on Early Earth.”  A team found tiny tubules in glass formed by the heat of impact.  From there, the article launched into speculation that those tubules could be homes for emerging organisms:

With the origin of life on Earth believed to have coincided with a period of increased impact flux, the idea that meteorite-formed glass might provide a prevalent, viable habitat for microbes could have a significant “impact” on our understanding of how early life developed.

Believed—by whom?  They never say, as if everyone believes it.  Still, life has to originate before it can use the tubules for habitat, so this explains nothing.  Geology magazine doesn’t want to explain the origin of life, either; it just wants to make sure the bombing runs were over before “Earth’s first inhabitants arrived.”  “Determining how fast life can appear on young, dynamically evolving planets such as early Earth assists astrobiologists searching for life on exoplanets,” says Aaron J. Cavosie (U of Puerto Rico).

Life without waterNew Scientist posted an article for subscribers titled, “No more primal soup: Creating life without water.”  Must be quite a trick.

Just because it moves:  Looks can be deceiving.  Inanimate drops in fat might appear to move and divide like living cells, but without a DNA code and the molecular machinery of life, what does it signify beyond mere external resemblance?  Sissa Medialabs got a kick out of it, posting pictures with the misleading headline, “The  features  of  living  matter  emerge  from  inanimate matter.”  The post ends,

Chemists and biologists who study the origin of life don’t have access to cells that are sufficiently simple to be observed directly. “Even the simplest organism existing today has undergone billions of years of evolution”, explains Giomi, “and will always contain fairly complex structures. Starting from schematic organisms as we do is like turning the clock back to when the first rudimentary living beings made their first appearance. We are currently starting studies to understand how cell metabolism emerge.”

This is akin to saying a lava lamp is a schematic organism representing a rudimentary life form.

Your tax dollars at work: Niacin without life.  NASA/Goddard proposed a new supplement for the origin of life: it was “assisted” when meteorites delivered Vitamin B3 (niacin).  Your body uses vitamins through complex, programmed interactions with proteins, but chemicals sloshing around in a primordial soup had no proteins or DNA.  What good is vitamin B3 added to the mix?  They don’t know, but “the origin of life may have been assisted by a supply of key molecules created in space and brought to Earth by comet and meteor impacts.”  This might have been “helpful,” the article says.  The soup we know spills out of the bowl when a rock lands in it at 75,000 miles an hour.  Becky Oskin at Live Science didn’t think about that when she regurgitated this tax-funded notion.

Life-friendly sludge:  Elizabeth Howell resurrected the always-handy icon of Stanley Miler’s spark-discharge tube in another piece on Astrobiology Magazine (another tax-funded NASA outlet).  Her focus is how stars generate “life-friendly atmospheres” that might form around “life-friendly planets.”  This is all tied somehow to the “organic sludge” Miller got in his experiment.  It would be a shame if life never showed up with all this life-friendly atmosphere, planet and sludge all set for it.

Amino world:  It’s a mean ol’ world for origin-of-life research, but maybe Titan is friendlier.  Researchers publishing in Icarus got some amino acids like Miller’s in simulated Titan sludge.  “Given reducing conditions, similar materials should be available throughout the universe,” they say.  The problem is, Titan has no life that we are aware of (pretty hard at 190° below zero), and the only place we know life exists did not have reducing conditions like Miller used.  “Although it is unknown how life began,” they just want to move the theoretical ball forward.  Nothing was said about whether they obtained pure left-handed amino acids.  Probably not.

Thus ends another sad saga of hope versus reality in the origin-of-life field.  62 years after Miller & Urey launched their skyrocket of hope into the philosophical atmosphere, there is nothing to show for it.  Scenarios come, and scenarios go.  It is now 150 years since Darwin dreamt of a “warm little pond” leading to life.  Astrobiologists are frustrated.  They produce “life-friendly atmospheres” and “life-friendly planets.”  They fortify their soups with water, vitamin B3 and methanethiol, but nothing happens.  They set up shop at the bottom of the sea, and in meteorites, and on Titan.  “Come on, life!  Emerge!  Appear!”

Sound a little like the prophets of Baal?  (I Kings 18).

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

tokyojim May 9, 2014

How much money are we spending on this type of research?!

How many scientists make a living off of this type of speculation?

Wouldn’t we be better using that money on biomimetic research that can actually benefit humanity?

Perhaps there are some side benefits that come from OoL research, but I’m afraid it is mostly a waste.

txpiper May 9, 2014

Beautiful.

John C May 9, 2014

One thing that has always bothered me about hydrothermal vents: How do scientists know they were even THERE billions of years ago? This is more than just a creationist question–One would think that hydrothermal vents are a ‘stretch-mark’ indicative of either long or severe stresses on the sea-floor. Billion-year-old vents ask the question: Why would there be any internal pressure left to run these vents?

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