July 28, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Gems and Hot Ideas About Life’s Origin

It seems that origin-of-life speculations are constantly looking for new plot lines.  PhysOrg published a new idea that life started on diamonds.  Yes, “Diamonds may have been life”s best friend on primordial Earth,” it began, raising the interesting question whether friendship was a concept before consciousness emerged.  Since diamonds are thought to be among the oldest minerals on earth, some German researchers studied whether their surfaces would make good incubators for the birth of the first cell.  “In a series of laboratory experiments, the scientists showed that after treatment with hydrogen, natural diamond forms crystalline layers of water on its surface, essential for the development of life, and involved in electrical conductivity.”  How does one say “necessary and sufficient conditions” in German?  “When primitive molecules landed on the surface of these hydrogenated diamonds in the atmosphere of early Earth, the resulting reaction may have been sufficient enough to generate more complex organic molecules that eventually gave rise to life, researchers say.”
    In another odd scenario, the BBC News suggested that life came from Venus.  If it is so difficult as to challenge the best astrobiologists on earth to imagine life forming on a congenial planet in the habitable zone, how much more from a scorching-hot, sultry cooker with a sulfuric-acid-drenched atmosphere?  The Wickramasinghe brothers (Chandra being long-time colleague of the late Fred Hoyle) don’t look at Venus that way.  They think “Venus’s clouds contain chemicals that are consistent with the presence of micro organisms.”  And so how did those Venus microbes arrive here on earth?  They were blown here by the solar wind.  A skeptical researcher considered this “not really very likely.”

How do wild ideas get such good press?  If you need a refresher course on why crystals are not templates for information, read the 02/19/2004, 02/15/2004, and 06/08/2007 entries.  Progress will be measured in some future day by the decibel level of laughter such conjectures evoke among thinking people.

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Categories: Dumb Ideas, Origin of Life

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