August 16, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Secularists Battle Over Which Life Theory Is More Wrong

Origin-of-life camps don’t recognize that RNA-World theories and hydrothermal-vent theories suffer from the same basic problem.

We’ve been wrong about the origins of life for 90 years,” says Arunas L Radzvilavicius on The Conversation. But as Tonto responded to the Lone Ranger when, surrounded by screaming Indians, he told his companion that “It looks like we’re in real trouble,” Tonto said, “What do you mean ‘we’, paleface?” Creationists have been on the warpath with materialists for millennia. Their weapons have only gotten stronger. Meanwhile, the plight of origin-of-life research grows more dire.

Radzvilavicius, a supporter of the hydrothermal-vent theory for the origin of life, takes on the Souper-men, who picture life emerging from generic-brand Primordial Soup. Why he counts only 90 years is not clear, since the master himself, Charles Darwin, launched speculation about life emerging from a warm little pond in an 1871 letter to Joseph Hooker. That would make it 145 years of wrongness. The Souper-men cannot account for the cartoon character’s souper-powers, even with a magic touch of Miller lightning:

Under the conventional theory, life supposedly began when lightning or UV rays caused simple molecules to join together into more complex compounds. This culminated in the creation of information-storing molecules similar to our own DNA, housed within the protective bubbles of primitive cells. Laboratory experiments confirm that trace amounts of molecular building blocks that make up proteins and information-storing molecules can indeed be created under these conditions. For many, the primordial soup has become the most plausible environment for the origin of first living cells.

But life isn’t just about replicating information stored within DNA. All living things have to reproduce in order to survive, but replicating the DNA, assembling new proteins and building cells from scratch require tremendous amounts of energy. At the core of life are the mechanisms of obtaining energy from the environment, storing and continuously channelling it into cells’ key metabolic reactions.

That’s where Radzvilavicius thinks hydrothermal vents come in. They supply a continuous source of energy. For evidence, he says that life runs on proton gradients that one can find in the acid-alkaline environment at vents.

The studies suggest that in the earliest stages of life’s evolution, chemical reactions in primitive cells were likely driven by these non-biological proton gradients. Cells then later learned how to produce their own gradients and escaped the vents to colonise the rest of the ocean and eventually the planet.

While proponents of the primordial soup theory argue that electrostatic discharges or the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation drove life’s first chemical reactions, modern life is not powered by any of these volatile energy sources. Instead, at the core of life’s energy production are ion gradients across biological membranes. Nothing even remotely similar could have emerged within the warm ponds of primeval broth on Earth’s surface. In these environments, chemical compounds and charged particles tend to get evenly diluted instead of forming gradients or non-equilibrium states that are so central to life.

He rests his case by stating that vents represent the only environment on earth with energetics comparable to those found in living cells. The Souper-men need to get real. “Seeking the origins of life in the primordial soup made sense when little was known about the universal principles of life’s energetics. But as our knowledge expands, it is time to embrace alternative hypotheses that recognise the importance of the energy flux driving the first biochemical reactions.” Vents, he argues, provide a seamless transition from non-life to life.

But is that energy targeted toward building cells, or is it more like a bull in a china shop? He never did get back to that question about information storage and retrieval. He never did say how the energetics became isolated within a cell membrane. He never did say how protein machines took on this role.

RNA Whirl

Meanwhile, in the Scripps kitchen, Gerald Joyce has cooked up a new RNA noodle for his soup. His paper in PNAS recognizes that

Darwinian life requires the ability to replicate genotypes and express phenotypes. Although all extant life relies on protein enzymes to accomplish these tasks, life in the ancestral RNA world would have used only RNA enzymes.

So while the Venters focus on energy, the Soupers focus on replication. Gerald Joyce, however, used a lot of intelligently-directed energy to create his new synthetic RNA enzyme (ribozyme). It works better than previous attempts:

The new ribozyme can replicate short lengths of RNA efficiently and perform transcription on even longer RNAs to make functional RNA molecules with complex structures—coming close to what scientists imagine in terms of an RNA replicator that could have supported life before modern biology, where protein enzymes now handle gene replication and transcription.

Joyce and colleagues, however, bought their RNA from a supply house. RNA is a very delicate molecule, unlikely to form (or survive) in soups or vents. Joyce started with a carefully-crafted ribozyme, then submitted it to rounds of “Darwinian evolution” (actually, artificial selection), randomizing it to look for versions that would work. His colleague David Horning says in PhysOrg, “The selection was based on the ability of these newly synthesized RNAs to actually function by binding to their targets.” But Horning and Joyce were the ones making those selections. Would this have occurred in a mindless primordial soup? No; everyone in the origin-of-life research field agrees that, until accurate replication emerged somehow, natural selection was unavailable. When researchers are escorted out of the lab, dumb molecules will just do what the laws of chemistry make them do.

Joyce feels that ribosomes, composed largely of RNA, are a relic of the RNA world. Ribosomes, though, are highly complex, and employ numerous proteins to translate DNA. In “RNA: How cells master the art of reading life’s recipes,” Science Daily reveals some of that complexity. Translating the genetic code into functional machines requires high precision in targeting the initiation sites and reading the genetic information.

“The theory was that the smaller half of the ribosome attaches itself to the very beginning of the RNA and then scans along the string until it finds the start signal of the recipe. There, the larger half joins and the whole ribosome begins to manufacture a protein,” Dr Shirokikh said.

“Our ribosome snapshot approach has finally provided proof that the scanning model is correct. We also gained new insight into how fast the ribosome can complete the different tasks and how other cellular components come in to help it along.”

What both origin-of-life camps fail to address is the natural emergence of functional information. The Venters ignore it. The Soupers assume it. But since proteins and nucleic acids won’t work unless their building blocks are correctly assembled, it reduces to a sequencing problem. How did the building blocks arrange themselves into functional sequences? The probability of that happening naturally is vanishingly small. But without intelligent guidance, molecules have no desire or power to come together in the right order to form a functional living system.

A glimpse into the complexity of cellular systems for crafting proton gradients targeted at functional information can be seen in an illustration in Science Daily. Complex I, a sophisticated machine with moving parts (7/06/10, 9/22/10) is just one in chain of machines that produce the proton gradient for ATP synthase. It consists of “45 subunits, comprising 14 core subunits that house the catalytic machinery (and are conserved from bacteria to humans),” the article says. That’s a lot of functional information directing proton flow to a highly specific pathway so that the energy can be captured in ATP for precise functions in the living cell. Another Science Daily article discusses how molecular biologists are getting better ways to watch molecular machines at work. That’s the level of complexity that origin-of-life secular research has to explain.

Jeff Errington says in The Conversation, “It’s one of the greatest mysteries of modern science: how did life begin exactly?

Creationists have the evolutionists under siege. Inside the echo chamber where the evolutionists are trapped, isolated from reality by sound-proof walls so that they can’t hear their critics, they are hastening their demise by taking shots at each other. It’s only a matter of time.

Rumor: Illustra Media is said to be working on a new film about the origin of life. It will severely challenge the RNA World, primordial soup, hydrothermal vent and all other theories that restrict themselves to material causes.

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  • Plazatoro says:

    So if life is capable of spontaneously forming in ponds or vents or whatever why isn’t it happening today, or for that matter many times over the last putative billions of years?

  • Buho says:

    It’s clear that the evolutionary paradigm is on borrowed time. It’s just too easy to push over. It’s all going to come crashing down eventually. But what isn’t clear is what’s going to replace it. With Biblical creationism it’s not a matter of facts; it hits too close to God Himself and that makes people uncomfortable. Maybe Intelligent Design infused with New Age spiritism will replace Darwinian evolution. Keep your eyes on the end-game, Christians.

  • C Gieschen says:

    I think that both sides are right….in that each side is wrong! Obviously they will never solve this “problem” as they seek a natural solution to a SUPER-natural event.

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