Looking for OOL in a Shallow Pool
Origin-of-life (OOL) studies entertained a new hypothesis this week: life started in shallow waters near hydrothermal vents. “Life’s Origin May Have Been a Shallow Affair,” claimed Anuradha K. Herath in Astrobiology Magazine, echoed by Live Science and PhysOrg. Leslie Mullen’s report on Live Science employed the ubiquitous “shedding light” phrase again: “In finding answers to the mystery of the origin of life, scientists may not have to dig too deep,” she said. “New research is shedding light on shallower waters as a possible location for where life on Earth began.”
By this, Mullen certainly was not thinking of the Spirit of God hovering over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:2). Instead, the article promoted a metabolism-first scenario for the origin of life proposed by Marcello Guzman of Harvard. He envisions life starting with a spontaneous chemical cycle, with heat provided by shallow hydrothermal vents. He needs the water to be shallow to allow sunlight to reach the reactions, but needs the vents to raise the temperature. In contrived conditions, with zinc sulfide as a catalyst, he reproduced about 70% of the Krebs cycle – an essential energy cycle in life – the article claims. It said nothing about the remaining 30%, though – how difficult those steps would be to reproduce, or whether 70% of a chemical cycle deserves the term cycle at all. It also failed to identify the plausibility of the ingredients being found together in sufficient concentrations, and how competing cross-reactions could be inhibited.
George Cody (Carnegie Institute of Washington) called this “an interesting bit of chemistry” that “highlights how much work needs to be done.” One thing that needs to be done: “One has to link reliable chemistry with geochemical reality.”
It’s not the origin of life that is a shallow affair. It’s the thinking of these astrobiologists and reporters. To understand why, read Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell (06/27/2009 Resource of the Week). Check this out, too: a recent peer-reviewed paper described by Casey Luskin at Evolution News calls for scuttling worthless hypotheses – including ones like the above. David L. Abel said, “Millions of dollars in astrobiology grant money have been wasted on scenarios that are possible, but plausibly bankrupt….science needs a foundational principle by which to falsify a myriad of theoretical possibilities that are not worthy of serious scientific consideration and modeling.” For problems with the metabolism-first scenarios, see 06/12/2006, 02/15/2007, and 01/26/2008.