Crusty Salt Incubates Raw Ingredients for Life
Science Daily asked, “Could salt crusts be key ingredient in cooking up prebiotic molecules?” What if the answer is “No”? Just asking the question must be newsworthy. It invokes the power of suggestion.
Stefan Fox told members of the European Planetary Science Congress last week that his team cooked up a new idea about the origin of life. First, they imagined what the ocean chemistry might have been like 3.8 billion years ago. Then they added salt to their imagined seawater recipe. After performing experiments “evaporating solutions of artificial primordial seawater and then baking the salty residue in an atmosphere of nitrogen and carbon dioxide to volcanic temperatures of 350 degrees Celsius,” they found pyrrholes – molecules that can be found in heme and chlorophyll. The salt crusts bind to amino acids and stabilize them against evaporation, they said.
So what? These molecules are not alive in any sense of the word. “Our aim is to identify types of small molecules that might have participated in a hypothetical next step of chemical evolution,” they said. So far they got some simple amino acids, peptides and pyrrholes. (Presumably the amino acids came from Miller-style lightning discharges or from comets, and were in very small concentrations – but Fox said there were hundreds of thousands of years in which they could have accumulated.)
The astrobiologists at the conference were probably happy to hear about a new way to keep amino acids from being rapidly destroyed. “A clear chemical pathway for the development of the raw materials of life would add support to the theory of life evolving beyond Earth,” the article ended.
Allowing storytellers into the science lab (12/22/2003 commentary) was a crime against humanity. It permitted all kinds of mischief to be tolerated in the name of science. Fox (who should stop following in the footsteps of the previous Fox, Sidney Fox, in mythmaking, but should watch Fox News instead), is apparently unaware that salt is the last thing you want around to cook up life (06/25/2009). But in the new Darwin Storytelling Contest view of science, anything that lends itself to bottom-up thinking (hydrogen to people) is considered progress. No matter the illogic and contradictions, these liars will take their amino acids with toxic salt if they have to. They need those building blocks of lie (03/19/2008).