November 14, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Boastful Origin-of-Life Claims Conceal Contradictions

The latest speculations about life’s origins always overlook the most essential component: the origin of biological information.

Suggestive catch-phrases are no substitute for demonstration. Evolutionary scientists employ stock phrases like “missing link” and “RNA world” and “prebiotic soup” that conceal, rather than illuminate, the actual chemical problems getting from molecules to life. The so-called “building blocks of life,” like a pile of bricks, can do nothing on their own without guidance from information in blueprints and the mechanisms to convert information into structure.

Here’s the latest news about origin-of-life studies (OOL for short). Watch how researchers and reporters use language with the power of suggestion and a high perhapsimaybecouldness index to conceal serious difficulties.

“It reminds me of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, who waves a wand and ‘poof’….”

Potential ‘missing link’ in chemistry that led to life on Earth discovered (Science Daily). Anything could be a “potential” missing link if the path is sufficiently convoluted. OOL-er Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is proposing diamidophosphate (DAP) as a missing link. In his fairy tale, he brazenly commits the poof spoof:

Krishnamurthy and his colleagues have shown previously that DAP can efficiently phosphorylate a variety of simple sugars and thus help construct phosphorus-containing carbohydrates that would have been involved in early life forms. Their new work suggests that DAP could have had a much more central role in the origins of life.

“It reminds me of the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, who waves a wand and ‘poof,’ ‘poof,’ ‘poof,’ everything simple is transformed into something more complex and interesting,” Krishnamurthy said.

In this “scenario” Krishnamurthy started with the ingredients, but just use DAP to facilitate phosphorylation. Although this over-confident piece mentions the need for nucleic acids to “store genetic information,” it never tells where the information comes from.

Experimental evidence overturns accepted theory (Science Daily). Down with the RNA World! That’s basically what two teams are saying in this article, “overturning accepted theory” for a different and equally speculative scenario.

Life on Earth originated in an intimate partnership between the nucleic acids (genetic instructions for all organisms) and small proteins called peptides, according to two new papers from biochemists and biologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Auckland. Their “peptide-RNA” hypothesis contradicts the widely-held “RNA-world” hypothesis, which states that life originated from nucleic acids and only later evolved to include proteins.

What do these two “worlds” have in common? They both lack a theory for the origin of biological information. The papers focus on how nucleic acids and peptides need to work together, but overlook the weightier problem of installing coded information into the molecules. Here is a classic quote employing several of the OOL catch-phrases. Notice how the boastful assertions in the first paragraph are followed up by complete ignorance in the second paragraph concerning the key issue of programming:

Before there was life on Earth, there were simple chemicals. Somehow, they produced both amino acids and nucleotides that eventually became the proteins and nucleic acids necessary to create single cells. And the single cells became plants and animals. Research this century has revealed how the primordial chemical soup created the building blocks of life. There is also widespread scientific consensus on the historical path by which cells evolved into plants and animals.

But it’s still a mystery how the amino acid building blocks were first assembled according to coded nucleic acid templates into the proteins that formed the machinery of all cells.

They propose a tight “relationship” between RNA and peptides mediated through the amino-acyl tRNA synthetases (aaRS) or their assumed “ancestors”. How these ancestors emerged is not clear, but the OOL-ers speculate that a code emerged through a “strange loop” of self-reinforcing interactions. Maybe it’s something like the letters q and u becoming matched in words like quick and quiet, such that all subsequent information led to the works of Shakespeare. If you don’t believe that, then you sure can’t believe the RNA-World story, because even these researchers know that one doesn’t make sense:

“Such a rise from RNA to cell-based life would have required an out-of-the-blue appearance of an aaRS-like protein that worked even better than its adapted RNA counterpart,” Carter said. “That extremely unlikely event would have needed to happen not just once but multiple times — once for every amino acid in the existing gene-protein code. It just doesn’t make sense.

While we’re talking about extremely unlikely events, let’s review Illustra Media’s animation of the chance of getting one medium-sized protein by chance. This protein cannot be a random string of amino acids. It must have the proper informational sequence to fold and be functionally useful in cell. Watch “The Amoeba’s Journey” at the Origin film website.

Abiotic production of sugar phosphates and uridine ribonucleoside in aqueous microdroplets (PNAS). This technical paper offers a suggestion to overcome the difficult problem of getting necessary molecules together. The authors know they fall apart in solution. So what do they propose? They speculate that tiny droplets held the ingredients together so that they could form relationships, perhaps like the Table for Eight dating service. Watch for mention of biological information:

Phosphorylation is essential for life. Phosphorylated molecules play diverse functions in cells, including metabolic (e.g., sugar phosphates), structural (e.g., phospholipids), and instructional (e.g., RNA and DNA). In nature, the phosphorylation of sugars via condensation is thermodynamically and kinetically unfavorable in bulk solution. Thus, a key question arising within prebiotic chemistry concerning the origin of life is, “How was phosphorus incorporated into the biological world?” Here, we show that sugar phosphates and a ribonucleoside form spontaneously in microdroplets, without enzymes or an external energy source. Sugar phosphorylation in microdroplets has a lower entropic cost than in bulk solution. Therefore, thermodynamic obstacles of prebiotic condensation reactions can be circumvented in microdroplets.

After that brief mention of the “instructional” function (synonymous with the storage of coded information), do they say anything more about it? You will search in vain for any mention of code, coding, information, instructions, or similar words. The whole paper basically suggests that if you can get letters together close enough, against their natural tendencies, you will get books.

Update 11/14/17: When water met iron deep inside the Earth, it might have created conditions for life (Carnegie Science). This article, with a very high perhapsimaybecouldness index, is convenient for the speculators because it could never be falsified. Who could ever discover life deep inside the Earth? One important part of the theory, though, falsifies another long-held belief. If oxygen-rich iron compounds were dragged by subduction into the interior, oxygen could build up and then explode to the surface, they theorize:

The authors hypothesize that such an oxygen explosion could put a tremendous amount of the gas into the Earth’s atmosphere—enough to cause the so-called Great Oxygenation Event, which occurred about 2.5 billion years ago and created our oxygen-rich atmosphere, conditions that kickstarted the rise oxygen-dependent life as we know it.

“This newly discovered high-temperature and intense-pressure water-splitting reaction affects geochemistry from the deep interior to the atmosphere” said Mao. “Many previous theories need to be re-examined now.”

Previous theories explained the rise of oxygen by the “emergence” of photosynthesis. But did a rise in oxygen cause the Cambrian Explosion? See Evolution News about that (also here).

The bleached hair OOL theory: “New study sheds light on how earliest forms of life evolved on Earth” (Phys.org). This is NOT a dumb blonde joke. “In a major advance on previous work, the study found a compound commonly used in hair bleach, hydrogen peroxide, made the eventual emergence of life possible.” Rowena Ball tosses random darts at a hard target:

The origin of life is one of the hardest problems in all of science, but it is also one of the most important,” said Dr Ball from the Mathematical Sciences Institute and Research School of Chemistry at ANU.

The research team made a model using hydrogen peroxide and porous rock that simulated the dynamic, messy environment that hosted the origin of life.

“Hydrogen peroxide played multiple roles in the emergence of living systems, and this study investigated how it ensured the randomly fluctuating temperatures and pH levels necessary to energise the production of a chemical world that made life on Earth possible,” Dr Ball said.

Her speculation calls for finely-tuned conditions of temperature and pH, further reducing the probability that necessary ingredients will assemble at one place and time. She has a rather novel concept of evolution: “Evolution can be thought of as burning a succession of small bridges,” she remarks.

That’s enough nonsense for today. We don’t want to make readers sick.

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