Bubble Life Could Have Had Armor
A headline posted by Science Daily is self-explanatory: “Clay-Armored Bubbles May Have Formed First Protocells: Minerals Could Have Played a Key Role in the Origins of Life.” The operative words are may have and could have, which, being mere suggestions, are unfalsifiable. If it didn’t happen here, it may have or could have happened on the planet Zorx in Sector 1906523-A.
The claybubble theory of life is a new twist on Jack Szostak’s old fatbubble theory (see (09/03/2004). That story also had plenty of mays and coulds. This version by Howard Stone and Anand Bala Subramaniam (Harvard) imagines air bubbles armored with montmorillonite, a clay mineral. The advantage of claybubbles is one-way osmosis, allowing small “building block” molecules to get in, but keeping the complex molecules evolving inside protected, assuming they could self-organize into life somehow (10/08/2010).
“If there is a benefit to being protected in a clay vesicle, this is a natural way to favor and select for molecules that can self-organize,” Stone said. He did not explore whether selection can operate without accurate replication (see online book). He also did not speculate on how the building blocks became one-handed (see online book and 01/10/2011), or what might happen if a deadly toxin happened to grab the one-way key to the interior.
Grad student Subramaniam hedged his bets with a few more could words: “Whether clay vesicles could have played a significant role in the origins of life is of course unknown, but the fact that they are so robust, along with the well-known catalytic properties of clay, suggests that they may have had some part to play.” It does not appear either of them speculated on whether sand grains, soap bubbles, or lava might also qualify for the suggestion that they may have had some part to play.
Remember, these guys get paid for this. Let’s sing verse 2 of the chorus introduced back in 09/03/2004 (read that whole commentary again, too):
Surrounding them with armor of clay
Gets building blocks in trouble;
They’re stuck inside forever to stay,
Flop goes the bubble.