October 23, 2019 | Jerry Bergman

Life’s Amino Acid Kit Appears Pre-ordained


A huge problem for secular origin of life theories: of the thousands of possible amino acids, only a handful work for life.

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Professor Anthony Standen in his 1950 bestselling book, Science Is a Sacred Cow, wrote about the missing links problem in evolution, calling the term “a most misleading phrase, because it suggests only one link is missing. It would be more accurate to say that the greater part of the entire chain is missing.” And the first link, by far the most important link, the one between non-life and life, is also missing. Will these gaps be filled in someday? Standen concludes that they will not, and so far he has been proved correct almost 70 years later. Nonetheless, he notes that evolutionists have an “unshakeable faith in what science is going to do some day.”[1] The new study reviewed here is a very good example.

The Amino Acid Conundrum

Credit: Illustra Media, Origin.

This new study, published in Nature‘s open-access journal Scientific Reports, not only hurts their cause, but it helps support the creationist case.[2] As is well documented, “All life, from bacteria to blue whales to human beings, uses an almost universal set of 20 coded amino acids (CAAs) to construct proteins.”[3] The exceptions include minor variations in certain bacteria that use two other amino acid types. Furthermore, “it has so far not been proven possible to construct an organism that can survive with less than the 20 CAAs in its total proteome.[4] This means, for a cell to be alive, it must have all 20 coded amino acids. The probability for this to occur by chance, as discussed below, is essentially zero.[5]

In other words, to obtain the required sets by chance, for all intents and purposes, is impossible. A review of the study in Science Daily, titled “Scientists find biology’s optimal ‘molecular alphabet’ may be preordained,” attempts to explain by chance the origin of the genetic code that assembles amino acids as part of the process of manufacturing functional proteins.[6] As noted, life uses 20 coded amino acids, called the CAA. The study by Ilardo et al. researching these 20 amino acids found that there exist

millions of possible types of amino acids that could be found on Earth or elsewhere in the Universe, each with its own distinctive chemical properties. Indeed, scientists have found these unique chemical properties are what give biological proteins, the large molecules that do much of life’s catalysis, their own unique capabilities. The team had previously measured how life uses the 20 coded amino acids CAA set compared to random sets of amino acids and found that only about 1 in a billion random sets had chemical properties as unusually distributed as those of the CAAs.[7]

This study also shows the origin of life by abiogenesis is even more improbable than believed before this study. The one-in-a-billion odds, for all practical purposes, translates to impossible. Life’s kit of amino acids must have been functional since the beginning, and stable throughout the history of life. Creationists explain biology’s optimal “molecular alphabet” as due to intelligent design and foresight. They reason that the universal biological language was part of a deliberate purposeful design for all life.

Natural Selection No Help

Evolutionists try to get around this by postulating that natural selection very early in evolution selected out (eliminated) all but 20 amino acids – the very ones that are all fine-tuned to produce life. All life is descended from that original finely-tuned set; therefore, this is the reason why the code is close to universal. It sounds plausible on the surface. The problem with this explanation is that it totally lacks scientific evidence. All living organisms use the same code with only very rare and minor exceptions, as noted. Some evolutionary explanations sound almost mystical, as if amino acids were lab scientists seeking to discover the best set:

Life uses 20 coded amino acids (CAAs) to construct proteins. This set was likely evolutionarily ‘standardized’ from smaller sets as organisms discovered how to make and encode them. Scientists modeled how the adaptive properties of the CAAs evolved over time. They found that sets containing even only a few CAAs were better than an enormous choice of alternatives, suggesting each time a modern CAA was discovered, it bootstrapped the set to include still more CAAs.[8]

The problem with this anthropomorphic explanation is modern amino acids are not discovered by a cell. They must all be present in the cell from the beginning. Moreover, all 20 must exist in the necessary amounts, and must function well enough for life to successfully reproduce. No life-form can survive without a complete set of the right number of amino acids. As Cooper notes, “all cells share common fundamental properties … all cells employ DNA as their genetic material, are surrounded by plasma membranes, and use the same mechanisms for energy metabolism.”[9] As will be explained in the next section, this fact creates a major problem for evolution.

How the Code is Speculated to Have Evolved

Another evolutionary hypothesis sounds like a horse race. Several codes evolved, they say, and one set won out in the competition for survival – namely, the code set we see today. The problem with this hypothesis is that the evolution of even one code set is so improbable that two or more is well out of the range of probability. The research reviewed here concluded that

the possible ways of making a set of 3-20 amino acids using a special library of 1913 structurally diverse ‘virtual’ amino acids …  found there are 1048 ways of making sets of 20 amino acids. In contrast, there are only ~ 1019 grains of sand on Earth, and only ~ 1024 stars in the entire Universe.[10]

Time No Help

Time is no help here. If the code set consists of useless chemicals without the entire functional mechanism required to orderly assemble both the code and the other parts of the system, such as Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA), they will be degraded rapidly. If the primordial cell has no recycling system, it could not survive for long. Nonfunctional amino acids are worse than useless, additionally, and will also be rapidly degraded without a mechanism to convert the DNA code into amino acid “polypeptides” (chains), which is what the complex assembly machine called a ribosome does.

Likewise, this system is also useless unless a folding mechanism system exists. Chains of amino acids must fold to be functional. They are often assisted by complex molecular machines called chaperonins. But a folding system is useless without other molecular machines, such as kinesin motors, that move the folded proteins to where they are needed in the cell. And all of these parts are useless without being organized and protected by a container—a membrane—to keep toxins from getting in, while permitting vital minerals to enter: water, oxygen and some 20 elements, such as calcium, phosphorus, chromium, zinc, sulfur and magnesium.

Panspermia No Help

Each one of these protein-manufacturing parts are not only improbable but will be degraded rapidly. They will only be protected and functional only as a set. For these and other reasons, the spontaneous generation of a living cell is essentially impossible. That is why the co-discoverer of DNA, Francis Crick, proposed the outlandish solution that the first cell came from outer space, a theory he called Directed Panspermia. Crick and his co-author, origin-of-life researcher Leslie Orgel, proposed this Directed Panspermia view as a plausible alternative that, they argued, should be taken seriously.[11] This alternative, however, only moves the problem elsewhere; it does not solve it. Although enthusiastically supported for several years, Directed Panspermia is now rarely talked about anymore.  Darwinists openly admit that natural selection cannot work at all until a complete functional cell exists that can reproduce itself accurately. Thus, in view of the above, note the problematic claim that these 20 CAAs were likely

“canonicalized” or standardized during early evolution; before this, smaller amino acid sets were gradually expanded as organisms developed new synthetic proofreading and coding abilities. The new study…  explored how this set evolution might have occurred.[12]

As one leading textbook admits: “It appears that life first emerged at least 3.8 billion years ago, approximately 750 million years after Earth was formed. How life originated and how the first cell came into being are matters of speculation, since these events cannot be reproduced in the laboratory.”[13] The author, Geoffrey M. Cooper, is a research scientist and administrator at Harvard Medical School. Cooper then, in a vain effort to help his cause, repeats the Stanley Miller boilerplate and other standard fare based on imagination and hope. Endless speculation against all probability does not help the evolutionists’ cause; in fact, the observable scientific data actually hurts it.


The new study about canonical amino acids, and how optimal they are from the beginning, adds to many others that have documented the impossibility of life from nonliving chemicals. A secular view of the origin of life has been recognized as improbable to impossible for decades, and this new research has only supported that early realization. Future research will undoubtedly continue to come to the same conclusion. As the co-discoverer of DNA, Francis Crick, said, the origin of life is “one of the great unsolved mysteries of science.”[14] Time has only made it a greater unsolved mystery of science than when Crick wrote this.


[1] Standen, Anthony. 1950. Science is a Sacred Cow. New York, NY: E. O. Dutton, p. 107.

[2] Ilardo, Melissa; Rudrarup Bose, Markus Meringer, Bakhtiyor Rasulev, Natalie Grefenstette, James Stephenson, Stephen Freeland, Richard J. Gillams, Christopher J. Butch, H. James Cleaves. 2019. Adaptive Properties of the Genetically Encoded Amino Acid Alphabet Are Inherited from Its Subsets. Scientific Reports, 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-47574-x. [Article number 12468, 28 August.]

[3] Scientists find biology’s optimal ‘molecular alphabet’ may be preordained. 2019. Science Daily, (Science News), 10 September. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190910080017.htm. Also note that the 20 coded amino acids are called the CAA.

[4] Ilardo et al, Scientific Reports, Ibid.

[5] Science Daily, Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Cooper, Geoffrey M. 1997. The Cell: A Molecular Approach.  Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc., p. 3

[10] Science Daily, Ibid.

[11] Crick, Francis. 1981. Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

[12] Science Daily, Ibid.

[13] Cooper, Geoffrey M. 2000. The Cell: A Molecular Approach, 2nd edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc., p. 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9841/

[14] Orlic, Christian. 2013. “The Origins of Directed Panspermia.” Scientific American, (Guest Blog), 9 January. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-origins-of-directed-panspermia/

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology at several colleges and universities including for over 40 years at Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored, are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.


Recommended Resource: Illustra Media’s film Origin explains the requirements for minimal life, and shows the staggering improbability of getting one simple protein (see this excerpt on YouTube). The film replays the Miller experiment with its problems. Alternative explanations like panspermia are also explored and rejected, leading to a clear conclusion that life had to be intelligently designed. Right now there is a sale going on by the distributor, Go2RPI.com, where you can obtain 50 conveniently-packaged DVD copies of the complete film for only $75, to hand out to friends and associates. Subscribe to their newsletter to get the announcement.

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