Can the Miller Experiment Be Revived?
Jeffrey Bada at the Scripps Institute is finding more interesting stuff in Stanley Miller’s spark-discharge tubes – with a little tweaking of ingredients. Scientific American acknowledges that the famous experiment fell into disrepute when scientists used a more realistic atmosphere: “It seemed to refute a long-cherished icon of evolution—and creationists quickly seized on it as supposed evidence of evolution’s wobbly foundations” (see also Robert Shapiro’s critique in the 02/15/2007 entry, “the soup kettle is empty”). This realization caused many in origin-of-life research to postulate that the building blocks of life came special delivery, from comets and meteors.
Bada decided to try a variation. He neutralized the acids and removed the nitrites that interfere with amino acid formation, and got amino acids to form in abundance. He rationalized this by saying that iron and carbonates on the early earth would have neutralized the primordial soup in a similar way.
Other researchers were buoyed by this finding. They think it will tip the paradigm back toward local formation of amino acids on the Earth, through lightning and radiation. Others caution that not all the building blocks can be formed in this manner; special delivery may still be required.
Same problems: mixed handedness, no concentrating mechanism, no peptide bond formation mechanism, no nucleic acids or sugars, competing reactions, investigator interference, the fallacy of using the intelligent design of the scientist to emulate chance and necessity, etc. Check our extensive reporting on origin-of-life research and debates by following the “origin of life” chain links going back over six years.
Interesting that they called this an icon of evolution. Jonathan Wells had a whole chapter about the Miller experiment in his book of that name. They also are painfully aware that creationists have had a field day with the refutation of the Miller icon. On the ropes since the heady days of the 1950s, the OOL research community thinks there may be life in the useful lie yet (05/02/2003). Not likely. Creationists not only seized this wobbly player in Darwin’s wrestling match; they have him in a chokehold on the floor. He will need a lot more nutrition than a few random amino acids to get up again.