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NASA Reproduces a Building Block of Life In the Lab

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the but-not-as-we-know-it dept.

Biotech 264

xp65 writes "NASA scientists studying the origin of life have reproduced uracil, a key component of our hereditary material, in the laboratory. They discovered that an ice sample containing pyrimidine exposed to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions produces this essential ingredient of life. 'We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, a component of RNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space,' said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. 'We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate occurrences in outer space, can make a fundamental building block used by living organisms on Earth.'"

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264 comments

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040388)

How does this fit in to NASA's mission of "Need Another Seven Astronauts"?

Re:first post (4, Funny)

HBoar (1642149) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040870)

Obviously they have decided it's best to start from scratch this time...

Re:first post (1)

Gerzel (240421) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041190)

It doesn't but since it is an Agency it can have more than a single mission? What you think the FBI or CIA should ONLY investigate a single case at a time?

Re:first post (2, Interesting)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041828)

Who ever moded you Offtopic is confused. NASA has basically repeated early 1950's science [wikipedia.org] ; why? If this experiment had been done on the Moon, then I would have lead a 3 Cheer Salute. This repeated experiment only reaffirms what is common knowledge in Middle School. So NASA, how about it, how about putting NASA's administrative offices on the Moon? That way when some scientists does something, the focus of, "Why Are We Here" can be made more clear, and at a level even a child could appreciate.

An Application? (1, Troll)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040418)

I mean its cool and all, but I'm not sure I see where this is going. Can someone enlighten me?

Re:An Application? (4, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040466)

It's heading towards understanding the origins of life on earth and anywhere else it may have arisen or came from.

If you need an application to appreciate that, then we have very little in common, but uh it could help in our search for life on other planets, creating useful life-like things on earth, and hey why not some medical applications? Geeze who cares at this point? Not I. This is basic research of the most important kind. Who knows what could result?

Re:An Application? (4, Funny)

value_added (719364) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040694)

If you need an application to appreciate that, then we have very little in common ...

Be kind. Most people need something tangible to inspire creative thought. To the OP, imagine, if you will, browsing the aisles of a toy store in your local mall. Next to the ant farm kits, and legos, you see

New from Ronco(TM). LifeBuilder(TM) 1.0.
Disclaimer: Space-like conditions and meteorites not included.

Or something like that.

Re:An Application? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040790)

I'd either be like "holy shit that's awesome" and buy it, "holy shit that's scary" and find out who put that crap in a toy store, or "wow lame what a scam."

I understand what you're saying, bad analogy. xD

Re:An Application? (5, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040804)

It's heading towards understanding the origins of life on earth and anywhere else it may have arisen or came from.

There's a committed portion of the US population who don't need to "head..towards understanding the origins of life" because they are absolutely certain that they know exactly how life came about because some Bronze Age scroll tells them so. They're not going to take kindly to anything that could challenge their certainty.

I wouldn't be so sure that ten years from now this kind of research will be allowed, at least in public institutions. Don't forget that until recently there were bans on publicly-funded research which used cells from deceased embryos and lab-created blastocytes, because they "have souls".

This is basic research of the most important kind.

You think so, and I think so, but a very vocal and (seemingly) influential minority thinks it's heresy.

Re:An Application? (2, Interesting)

spyder-implee (864295) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041254)

Do you really think the bible belt in America is becoming more influential? I thought the trend today was moving away from religion (not to say it's moving towards science.) I ask this genuinely & coming from a country where I personally feel very little religious interference in my life, I find people with such strong blind faith really fascinating.

Re:An Application? (-1, Flamebait)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041448)

There are an awful lot of the wackos in my supposedly progressive home state of California.

Almost every car on the highway has a Not Of This World" [notw.com] sticker if not the bootleg [google.com] sticker of Calvin praying next to a cross*. Those assholes always come out of the woodwork when dumbshit Nazis like Reagan or either Bush become elected president. Remember, the anti-gay-marriage prop 8 (which I voted against) passed here and other "save marriage" battles are being fought(often lost) in other states as well.

The boyfucking Catholics have deep historical roots in California. Additionally, plenty of border-jumping spics are all idolatrous Catholics who don't believe in birth control and so they propagate like cockroaches. Same goes for those weirdo brainwashed Mormons. The more intelligent heathens are less likely to breed and so the outlook here ain't good. Also -- Google the Louisiana Science Education act and shit bricks. My state and my country fucking disgust me.


*tangent: that fucking sticker makes me furious. Calvin was probably the biggest influence on my childhood and seeing that sticker is like experiencing a repressed memory of being buttfucked by a priest!

Re:An Application? (3, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041278)

I wouldn't be so sure that ten years from now this kind of research will be allowed, at least in public institutions. Don't forget that until recently there were bans on publicly-funded research which used cells from deceased embryos and lab-created blastocytes, because they "have souls".

That's just stupid. Simply put, there has to be a lot more fundamentalist Christians than there are for such a thing to come about. My view is that the embryo ban came about because it was an icky, new technology like cloning or artificial insemination. After it's been around for a couple of decades, nobody but a few people will give it a second thought.

Re:An Application? (5, Insightful)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041846)

The example of artificial insemination is a good example. When artificial insemination was first introduced there was a lot of outcry over it. Now the only major objection is from the Catholic Church. Others who still object do so out of side-effects such as the destruction of embryos rather than objecting to the process as a whole (which the Catholic Church does). And in a few years even the Catholics will likely be fine with it.

But at the same time, this sort of example isn't so great. It involves a direct application: people are much more willing to change their ethical and moral attitudes when they see the actual benefits of a new technology.

The general worry of poor treatment of science is a valid one. Sarah Palin railed against research involving "fruit flies" and John McCain complained about research about bear DNA, and neither of those even had any moral or ethical component to them. There's a very strong anti-science attitude in certain groups in the United States. Worse, it appears on both sides of the political spectrum (the anti-vaccination movement and much of the fringier elements of alternative medicine are very much on the left end of the political spectrum). Moreover, strongly negative attitudes about evolution and abiogenesis research have already won out in some Islamic countries. Look at Turkey for example which is a nominally secular country (indeed with disturbingly enforced secularism) and yet evolution isn't taught in schools and universities have trouble doing any research connected to evolution or abiogenesis. See for example http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/11/islamic_creationism_in_the_new.php [scienceblogs.com] for a quick summary of the current situation in the Islamic world. Moreover, Islamic creationists in Turkey have succeeded partially due to support and cooperation with Christian creationists in the United States. So it is possible for religious fanatics to really restrict this sort of thing: It has happened in other countries. Is it likely? Probably not. But it isn't impossible.

Re:An Application? (0, Flamebait)

fatalGlory (1060870) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041626)

There's a committed portion of the US population who don't need to "head..towards understanding the origins of life" because they are absolutely certain that they know exactly how life came about because a guy who though of the cell as a simple blob wrote a book that tells them what he thought happened after you have the first life. They're not going to take kindly to anything that could challenge their certainty.

There. Fixed that for you ;)
Mods can have my karma if they want it, its still a purely religious assertion to say that life spontaneously arises. It's unobserved and there's good reason to believe its impossible (e.g. the chirality problem). We have a word for that where I come from, we call it unscientific.

Re:An Application? (5, Interesting)

RianDouglas (778462) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041886)

Mods can have my karma if they want it, its still a purely religious assertion to say that life spontaneously arises.

There's no definitive reason why it couldn't have happened, we observe life on this planet, and there is no real competing hypothesis, so it seems a reasonable, though speculative, hypothesis to entertain. Not certainty like the "God did it" crowd seem to have, but a rational inference from the data :-)

It's unobserved and there's good reason to believe its impossible (e.g. the chirality problem).

I wasn't aware the chirality problem was evidence towards abiogenesis being impossible, more that it presents a very interesting and challenging question as to why one particular handedness become dominant.

Re:An Application? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30042256)

Oh, that's just because he's using big words and doesn't realize what they mean. The issues he's raising aren't what he thinks they are, by a long shot.

Re:An Application? (2)

Capsaicin (412918) | more than 4 years ago | (#30042276)

its still a purely speculative assertion to say that life spontaneously arises.

There. Fixed that for you.

It is possible to speculate, and even to hold firm beliefs in the absence of evidence, which are not religious (ie. involving some supernatural intelligence) in nature. In fact they might even be scientific, albeit unsubstantiated, in nature. The attempt to equate any kind of unsubstantiated speculation with "religion," is in extremely bad faith. That 'believers' seem to be doing this, involving as it does the tacit admission that religion is an inferior form of knowledge, is actually quite revealing.

Of course with the accumulation of pieces of evidence such as this, we can begin to move from the merely speculative towards the probable.

Re:An Application? (4, Interesting)

maharb (1534501) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041880)

I agree that research should be allowed on this stuff but some of the opposition isn't crazy Christians. People like me are concerned about at what specific point does a person turn from a pile of cells to a "human". This has nothing to do with souls and more to do with defining important things like what constitutes murder. When is the magic point where some living thing goes from being thrown away as abortion waste to being something so valuable that society could potentially put someone to death for killing it.

I know that wasn't the exact point you were trying to make but I just wanted to voice that not everyone is opposed to something because of religious reasons. Some people have moral questions, separate from religious beliefs, that question how we treat living things.

I think this scientific research is way more important than a national health care plan, yet I still think boundaries should be respected if a valid reason is brought up. I know we now know how to obtain special cells easily without harm to anything, but in the past that wasn't exactly the case and I think that set off the panic that got the research criticized so much.

Re:An Application? (4, Insightful)

RianDouglas (778462) | more than 4 years ago | (#30042108)

People like me are concerned about at what specific point does a person turn from a pile of cells to a "human".

What distinguishes a homo sapiens sapiens from another ambulatory pile of cells, like a bovine for instance?

I know that wasn't the exact point you were trying to make but I just wanted to voice that not everyone is opposed to something because of religious reasons.

You're opposed to research into abiogenesis because you're afraid it will take away our "humanity"?
If you can define what this valuelable "humanity" thing is without invoking religious concepts (like souls), then I'd think there would no longer be a worry about research like this taking it away. I'd suggest it's something to do with sentience/consciousness and the different levels of it possessed by different people (and other animals)

Some people have moral questions, separate from religious beliefs, that question how we treat living things.

I don't think secular moral and ethical systems have much to worry about from scientific research.
Though he seems to be reviled in some quarters, perhaps reading Peter Singer [wikipedia.org] is a start?

Re:An Application? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041894)

come on now you never have read the bible...and thats where all the dissension is coming from so ... if you wanna sound 'read' then read the bible and make an informed incision... otherwise you make a stab in the dark like all the other 'scientists' who blather on about evolution and darwin's ass :)

Re:An Application? (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 4 years ago | (#30042346)

They're not going to take kindly to anything that could challenge their certainty.

I'm going to try not to disparage our future overlords. They're out-reproducing us and so according to Darwin they are more fit. Whether Darwin or Malthus wins in the end is an open question.

Re:An Application? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040534)

Another nail in the ID coffin.

Re:An Application? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040702)

At this point the coffin is made entirely of nails.

It's almost like a crown of nails, or like nails through the wrists.

Ohhhhh... too soon?

Re:An Application? (1)

skine (1524819) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041336)

Always look on the bright side of life.

Re:An Application? (4, Insightful)

randy of the redwood (1565519) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040842)

Not necessarily. Just because it occurs naturally, doesn’t mean that a God didn’t use this technique to design life on earth.

Full disclosure: I don’t currently believe in such a God, due to lacking supporting evidence. However, as a scientist, I am more than willing to be proven wrong.

Re:An Application? (0)

Rauq (1641655) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041172)

I didn't know there were any nails in the ID coffin. My intent is not to argue in favor of ID, but rather to point out that no evidence exists that life *wasn't* created by an intelligent being, whether God, alien (would that be extraterrestrial as well?), bigger human, or computer. Yes, life may have been created *through* a process such as this, but no evidence exists, and likely ever will, that proves that some higher being did not use this process *to* create life. Or that that being created life and concurrently created these proteins that can be formed in this manner. For that matter, who is to say that a being that powerful did not also concurrently place fossils in the ground, time the dating of Carbon-12, and for all we know, life was created 6,000 years ago with all the ancient artifacts we find even today already in the ground?

Re:An Application? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041304)

The first part of your argument I might be willing to swallow, since we (humans) are getting close to understanding how to create life. If we can do it, then it is possible that other intelligent life also has done it. This makes "Space alien ID" at least partially plausible.

The latter though-- that the being(s) resposible in an ID creation scenario would go through such extreme lengths to hide all evidence of such creation from their creations is getting well beyond the veil of possible credibility. In order for an intelligence to do something, it needs a reason, either concious or unconcious for doing so. So, if the creatures on the Earth are the result of an ID creation, then the creator(s) would have needed a reason to expend the resources to do so. (Either pure research, they needed a means to harvest something on our planet, or some other as of yet unknown need to perform the task.) The number of potentially plausible scenarios where an intelligence would need to do this, and then hide themselves from their own creations is pretty slim; Do we hide the fact that we modify corn, from the corn plants? Do we go out of our way to ensure the corn plants, SHOULD they evolve intelligence, never find out they were created?

Of course not. We created the GM corn to satisfy a need for a higher yeild foodstuff.

Likewise, if an ID creation event were to occur, it would be to create lifeforms that could perform some useful (to the creators) function in that environment. It would be no different from engineering germs that digest sulfur products to help process raw coal prior to combustion, or the creation of the GM corn; just on a more advanced/larger scale. There is no incentive to hide from the creations.

That is, unless you like to fantasize about some ID creation scenario where aliens produce intelligent humans out of the box to manipulate tools in an environment that is hostile to the creators, and the creators are fearful of reprisal or revolt against them from their created laborers. But, that is starting to get into the realm of cheesey dimestore science fiction like that found in Dianetics... And little to do with scientific plausibilities.

To be brutally honest, we do not have enough information to properly define the Drake equasion, which would be a prerequisite to determining the statistical liklihood of ID origin for any given planetary biosphere.

Right now the best evidence suggests it may have occured naturally, and that is the direction occam's razor suggests should be given the greatest attention, given the current lack of applicable data.

Is extraterrestrial ID possible? Certainly-- If we can make space probes, AND can engineer life forms, (even if they are just microbes)-- then we can potentially shower a suitable planetary or lunary system with such items, and cultivate life there. Is it the most probable explanation for life on Earth? Current evidence does not support that position.

Re:An Application? (2, Funny)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041494)

Do we hide the fact that we modify corn, from the corn plants? Do we go out of our way to ensure the corn plants, SHOULD they evolve intelligence, never find out they were created?

Um, you mean the ones that Monsanto gave Terminator genes to so they would never evolve into Skynet and kill us all?

Re:An Application? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041360)

I didn't know there were any nails in the GR coffin. My intent is not to argue in favor of GR, but rather to point out that no evidence exists that Glenn Beck didn't rape and murder a young girl in 1990, whether Glenn, the gimp, bigger strap ons, or mputer. Yes, rape may have been commited *through* a process such as this, but no evidence exists, and likely ever will, that proves that Glenn Beck did not Rape *to* create life. Or that that being raped girls and concurrently ripped hymen these jizzisms that can be formed in this young girl in 1990. For that matter, who is to say that a raping that young girl did not also concurrently place oxycodone in the Rush Limbaugh, time the dating of little girls in 1990, and for all we know, rape was committed 19 years ago with all the ancient artifacts we find even today already in the dead girl?

/YOUR WHARRGRBL MOFO. EAT IT.

Re:An Application? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041598)

I have to wonder what creationists will be saying come the day (likely in our lifetime - in fact already done if you count viruses as alive) when human designed life is first created.. when a bunch of dry chemicals can be built into a living, reproducing, evolving critter... The satisfaction in saying well maybe god did it that way too completely eludes me! Either god is necessary for life or he's not.

Maybe life on planet A was created by nature, but life on planet B was created by God. Err, OK....

Re:An Application? (3, Informative)

Knara (9377) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040542)

Basically its showing that the basic parts of RNA can form in conditions that are likely in outer space. If they can be shown to do so, then the theory that "life" (in some sort of manner) either started "out there" (cue Patrick Macnee [wikipedia.org] ), or that it's plausible that the parts came together on Earth in a natural fashion after being transported here by comets, meteorites, etc.

Re:An Application? (0)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040934)

Formation of separate parts does not imply that those separate parts will "come together" and actually form RNA, does it? That would be an impressive assumption to make.

Re:An Application? (5, Insightful)

mweather (1089505) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041032)

On a cosmological timescale, if the separate parts are capable of coming together, then their existence makes that event an inevitability.

Re:An Application? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041266)

On a cosmological timescale, things like uracil break down into things that aren't uracil. On an infinite timescale you may be right, but we're dealing with a universe that has not existed for infinity.

Re:An Application? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041506)

So, the old "monkeys typing Shakespeare" thing? Yeah....uh.....no.

Re:An Application? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30042336)

Then there is life on Mars and Europa!!!

Re:An Application? (1)

Ozlanthos (1172125) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040568)

To debunk or confirm the assumption that a god, deity, will or order (or any of a myriad of human concepts contrived to justify killing those guys over there for their "stuff") is actually really running the show?

-Oz

Re:An Application? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040608)

I'm more confused why NASA would be messing around with this.

Re:An Application? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040736)

Astrobiology [nasa.gov] -- the study of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe-- is part of NASA's mission. [nasa.gov]

Re:An Application? (4, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040676)

I mean its cool and all, but I'm not sure I see where this is going. Can someone enlighten me?

Sure. Picture this: you really need some uracil, but don't have a lot of scratch to buy it. You're out of luck, right? WRONG! Got some pyrimidine, ice, and a source of UV light? Guess what? THAT'S ALL YOU NEED!

With all the money you'll save with this, maybe you could treat yourself to some fancypants store-bought cytosine.

Re:An Application? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040698)

To show that they're not responsible for the bacteria the will eventually find on Mars and various moons.

Re:An Application? (1)

mweather (1089505) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041056)

If we show panspermia is possible, then the notion that life began on earth is in question. The onus is then to prove that there is not (or was not) life elsewhere in the universe, instead of the reverse.

Re:An Application? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040742)

They're debunking the god myth.

Re:An Application? (3, Funny)

Tynin (634655) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040836)

I mean its cool and all, but I'm not sure I see where this is going. Can someone enlighten me?

Much like how Star Trek has helped inspire technology, I believe Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick pioneered an application that could utilize this. That application would be the orbital baby. How the baby was made and the uses of said baby are left up to the opinion of the viewer. Of course that could be said for the rest of 2001: A Space Odyssey as well.

Re:An Application? (1)

grondak (80002) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040914)

I believe the orbital baby would be a great source for giant stem cells. Good thinking, Tynin!

Re:An Application? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041316)

Space mining. It's not just for asteroids anymore!

Re:An Application? (1)

General Wesc (59919) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040858)

I mean its cool and all, but I'm not sure I see where this is going.

That's how basic research works. You don't know where it's going to lead until suddenly you discover germs, or electricity, or proteins, or vitamins, or x-rays. Or just a better understanding of how the universe works--that's pretty valuable in its own right.

Re:An Application? (1)

Alinabi (464689) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040894)

Is this a newer, more sophisticated kind of troll, or a genuine intellectual deficiency?

Re:An Application? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041084)

Do you need an application beyond being able to tell creationists to STFU? Not that it helps stop them being retarded, but it's nice.

Re:An Application? (2, Funny)

symbolset (646467) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041298)

Think of it like this... you like, bacon, right? When people go to colonize the distant stars, it would be helpful if there was already bacon there when they arrived. Bacon is made from pigs, which are living things, and almost all living things of which we are aware are in part made of this stuff.

So the odds have improved that our interstellar colonists will arrive at a place that already has salty, delicious bacon -- which is good, since by then they'll probably be almost already out after a long trip.

Re:An Application? (2, Interesting)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041450)

They're refining the variables in the Drake Equation

Apparently the building blocks of life are not so very difficult to synthesize as to make us, the V's, or little green men, LIFE impossible to exist anywhere else.

On the series Cosmos Carl Sagan threw all the ingredients for life (carbon, nitrogen, water, etc) into a vat, stirred it up, and got nothing. I wonder what we will be stirring up in 20-50 years.

Also another direct application of this technique could be them trying out OTHER substances and situations that exist in space, and seeing what other kinds of life might exist, like with oceans of liquid hydrocarbons from Titan.

Re:An Application? (1)

Stupid McStupidson (1660141) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041544)

Next they will use comet goo to make some of those corner bricks, and maybe some asteroid crap to make the cool opening doorways. Then, if somebody can come up with one of the large flat square sections, we can make one cool lego house.

so all this stuff happened (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040442)

say... 6000 years ago or so?

Re:so all this stuff happened (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040646)

Exactly, my first though: "Oh shiznit, Jesus is gonna be pissed at NASA".

Silly scientists.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040496)

....everybody knows the basic building blocks of life were not made. They just happened by random chance. Life and energy sprang from the absence of life and energy. It just makes sense.

Re:Silly scientists.... (3, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040520)

They just happened by random chance.

Or, as the story shows, by entirely natural processes.

Re:Silly scientists.... (3, Interesting)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040784)

This does not show that the basic building blocks of life were made by entirely natural processes. This shows that a component of one of the building blocks of life can be made by natural processes. I don't think we can use induction, in this case, to try to say that since we uracil can be formed with natural processes, all building blocks of life can be, too. Not to mention the difficulty in getting "building blocks" or "components" to end up forming the actual thing that they are components/building-blocks of.

I'm glad they at least included this part, eventually:

Nobody really understands how life got started on Earth.

Re:Silly scientists.... (2, Funny)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040834)

I'm glad they at least included this part, eventually:

Nobody really understands how life got started on Earth.

I wish they had gone one better and stated that nobody understands IF life started on Earth.

So Say We ALL!

Re:Silly scientists.... (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041210)

I don't think we can use induction, in this case, to try to say that since we uracil can be formed with natural processes, all building blocks of life can be, too.

We can't use induction as proof, because this is not mathematics.

We can use induction to say that we can reasonably expect to discover that other building blocks can form from natural processes as well, though. At the very least, this reduces -- again -- the number of things we know can be formed naturally. The trend is pretty obvious, and if you're holding out on something coming up that can't be formed naturally then you'll probably be disappointed.

Re:Silly scientists.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041986)

heh good last sentence you prolly stumped everyone with that :)

Re:Silly scientists.... (4, Interesting)

symbolset (646467) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041518)

This shows that a component of one of the building blocks of life can be made by natural processes.

The Miller-Urey experiment [wikipedia.org] was also fruitful here. Over modest timescales in likely primordial Earth environments it appears that the building blocks formed are the ones commonest to all forms of life-as-we-know-it. The leap from "could have" to "did" is getting more manageable every few years.

The experiment in TFA goes further - finding methods for synthesis of the components not on a primordial Earth, but in space. This is a net positive for the panspermia theory. Oh, and BTW: you left off an important part of that quote.

Our experiments demonstrate that once the Earth formed, many of the building blocks of life were likely present from the beginning. Since we are simulating universal astrophysical conditions, the same is likely wherever planets are formed," explained Sandford.

We'll know more when we start dissecting comets, and even more when we dissect comets that orbit other stars. The tricky thing about life is that it takes darned little of it to make all of the life that we see.

Re:Silly scientists.... (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040572)

And now the Creationists will come out of the woodwork with dishonesty and fallacies galore. The reality is that they are stark raving terrified.

Re:Silly scientists.... (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040824)

And now the Creationists will come out of the woodwork with dishonesty and fallacies galore.

Uh-oh. Now you've done it.

Better get to some cover, and quick.

Re:Silly scientists.... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30040840)

I am amazed with the leaps of faith evolutionists take, but disallow creationists.

To say that because uracil can form in outer space like conditions a human can evolve is a step too far.

Re:Silly scientists.... (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040908)

No one is saying that this discovery somehow is some giant leap, but it sure makes the likelihood of the chemistry being more tenable. At any rate, at least us "evolutionists" come up with testable hypotheses. I mean, how do you falsify "God did it"? Or do you even bother as your movement spends more time trying to trick dimwitted school boards and judges into buying the pure crapola that is ID?

Re:Silly scientists.... (2, Insightful)

Paltin (983254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041050)

No one said what you think they said.

This is, however, one more piece of evidence to support evolution and one more bit of knowledge that we can use to understand where we came from.

There is no scientifically tenable theory for human origins except for evolution from a common ancestor. It's been that was for about a hundred years. Get over it.

Re:Silly scientists.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041338)

To say that because uracil can form in outer space like conditions a human can evolve is a step too far.

We've given you plenty of intermediate "steps." Every time we give you one, you stick your fingers in your ears and yell, "But now there are two more gaps!"

We can't fix stupid. We tried. Sorry.

Re:Silly scientists.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041464)

Typical creationist response: look at one little, tiny, almost insignificant piece of evidence in isolation, declare it utterly insignificant, and bang your Bible as the INERRANT TRVTH. There are hundreds of thousands of peer-reviewed studies investigating various different aspects of evolution, and thousands investigating various different aspects of abiogenesis. Google the terms, read some of the links. There's far, far, far more evidence to support evolution. It's regarded in the scientific community as the best evidenced theory we've ever come up with.

Re:Silly scientists.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041852)

shut up you stupid cunt-faced fuckwad. why don't you go shove a dildo shaped like the pope up you butthole you fucking fundamentalist cunt.

Ah, Uracil! (2, Interesting)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040558)

Wasn't that the secret ingredient that made Sucrets sooth sore throats 27% faster? Or Pampers 14% drier? Or Lucky Strikes the choice of five out of six doctors surveyed?

But seriously . . . cool.

If only because the Discovery Institute will have to scrap another set of creationist text books.

Re:Ah, Uracil! (4, Informative)

Ann O'Nymous-Coward (460094) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040584)

As if. Creationists don't care about facts. If they did, they wouldn't be creationists.

Re:Ah, Uracil! (0)

sbeckstead (555647) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040830)

Not true, facts are facts, they just don't believe that the facts add up to the same conclusion you do.

Re:Ah, Uracil! (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040936)

Uh, no. They pretty much deny a number of facts. What they deny will change over time, and often will change depending on the audience. I have had Creationists deny in one moment any evolution beyond species variation, then the next claim that some degree of macroevolution is possible, then in the next try to rearend Biblical "kinds" into genuses and families. In fact, the only thing that Creationists can be counted on to declare as "fact" is that no matter how much evolution is going on, men and apes are not related.

Re:Ah, Uracil! (1)

Paltin (983254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040988)

Fact's aren't facts when you're dealing with creationists. They actively avoid facts --- like evolution --- that disagree with their preconceived notions about how the world works.

Re:Ah, Uracil! (1, Funny)

sbeckstead (555647) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041490)

Sorry but evolution is a theory not a fact. Get your facts right if you expect to get any where.

Re:Ah, Uracil! (1)

Beezlebub33 (1220368) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041708)

You need to read: Evolution as Fact and Theory [stephenjaygould.org] . Evolution is a fact as far as science is concerned. It's also a correct theory.

Re:Ah, Uracil! (1)

J_Omega (709711) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041740)

It seems that evolution is, in fact, a fact.
Much like: the sky is blue, the sun gives off light/heat, gravity keeps us planted to the earth.

The theory of evolution - the process by which evolution occurs - is a theory.
(much like we have theories for how gravity works.)

That evolution occurs is factual - we've seen it happen both naturally and in the lab.
The exact processes that cause it are somewhat (but not very) debatable.

Re:Evolution is a theory, and a fact. (3, Informative)

Paltin (983254) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041746)

You're making a very common error in understanding about what constitutes a scientific fact.

Evolution -is- a fact; evolution has been observed and tested and met the criteria of a fact, just as gravity is a fact. The number of scientific papers where evolution as fact has been observed number in the hundred thousand or millions.

This extraordinary body of evidence consists of numerous tests of evolution, and easily fulfills any common definition of fact. [google.com]

Evolution is also a theory, in the scientific sense-- which means that it is a broadly applicable set of principles that help explain nature.

Much has been written regarding this; a little use of the 'ol google will provide much more to show you wrong.

Re:Ah, Uracil! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30042120)

Umm evolution is as much a fact as anything based on empirical evidence can be. Perhaps it's not a fact in the same way 2+2=4 but it is as much a fact as "Most of the O2 in the atmosphere is attributable to photosynthesis in plants".

Re:Ah, Uracil! (1)

Shirakawasuna (1253648) | more than 4 years ago | (#30042166)

It's both, as just about any biologist will tell you. Its framework is that of a scientific theory, it's been established so well that it's a fact...

Re:Ah, Uracil! (1)

sbeckstead (555647) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040820)

Why? God put that stuff there and then made it all come together to form life. You can't debunk a myth as powerful as this when you have a God that is omniscient and omnipotent it just can't be done, faith will rationalize any argument you present into the ground. Blind Faith by it's nature is unbeatable. You anti-creationists just need to sit back and wait for a creationist to die and then say "told you so" but um wait... that won't work either. I guess we're hosed no matter what we discover. Can't win, can't break even, can't even quit the game.

Re:Ah, Uracil! (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040912)

God put that stuff there and then made it all come together to form life.

*blinks* I'm confused about this one. It seems that you are suggesting that all Creationists (and by extension, Christians) believe God used evolution to form life? While there are plenty of "Theistic Evolutionists," there are also those that believe evolution of species did not occur at all (and that God did not use evolution).

Re:Ah, Uracil! (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040978)

How is declaring anything all Creationists believe in any way related to what all Christians believe? Creationism, in Catholic theology, is a heresy (see St. Augustine).

Re:Ah, Uracil! (1)

vivian (156520) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041202)

I couldnt agree more.

If by "God" you mean "A statistical probability that approaches one given a large enough timespan and enough random reactions of molecules eventually forming something that can self replicate", then yes. Of course once you have something that can self replicate, it is only a matter of time before mutations in the replication process cause those molecules that are best able to replicate to fill any new environmental niches ans set of conditions that is conducive to further replication.

I don't know how often molecules tend to bang in to each other in space (say, in a nebula), but there sure is a lot of space, and they have had an awfully long time to hit the jackpot to form the right combination of molecules that can self replicate.

If there's a place for god then until we find a universal theory for everything, then I suppose you could choose to believe (S)He is the rule setter. That's wildly different from anything described in any existing religious texts though - and to say God made all the animals and us via this sort of process makes about as much sense as attributing lightning striking your house to God because God made thunderstorms possible. (Insurance companies not withstanding)

Holy tag time. (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040614)

Where's the "!urine" tag on this one? Please, somebody think of the drunken graduate students who might read this story and decide to reproduce the results.

Re:Holy tag time. (1)

sbeckstead (555647) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040838)

Ahh piss on it, they won't care anyway, no alcahol involved.

Possible Interpretations... (5, Interesting)

interactive_civilian (205158) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040754)

I have a feeling that this will lead to the speculation that Earth was therefore seeded with fundamental biomolecules from space and this paved the way for life to begin on Earth. I hope people don't jump to this conclusion too quickly. Personally, I find it unlikely and think there is a more likely interpretation, which I will get to in a moment. The reason this is unlikely is that just having biomolecules is not enough to start life processes. Especially in the time frame when life is hypothesized to have originated (~3.8Gya), as the surface of the Earth was completely covered by ocean at that time, and any seeding of organic molecules from external sources runs into the concentration problem: the problem of getting enough of the right molecules in the right place with the right concentration and the right inputs of energy and raw materials for biochemistry to begin. Any such seeding from external sources would end up very dilute, and biomolecules would likely break down before they could be gathered in sufficient concentrations.

Personally, one possible interpretation which I prefer is that these findings (and similar ones of finding amino acids in comets and such) indicate that organic biomolecules are fairly common and will form anywhere you have C, O, H, N, S, etc and energy. Not only would this indicate that biomolecules could form fairly easily on Earth, but that they are common in the universe, and organic life may arise just about anywhere you have an input of energy and raw materials and a way of concentrating those molecules so they will react and form self-organizing and self-replicating biochemistry.

My current favorite hypothesis about the origins of life on Earth are those championed by Martin and Russell. They hypothesize that life on Earth began and alkaline hydrothermal vents in the ocean, around which porous rocks of iron and nickel sulfide would form semi-permeable cell-like compartments in which basic organic molecules formed by the geochemistry of the vent could concentrate and react with each other. Raw materials would be constantly input from the vent, and there would be a constant energy gradient in the form of heat, pH, and proton-motive force. This neatly solves several problems of many hypotheses of abiogenesis: the energy problems, the raw materials problem, and the concentration problem to name a few. They outline the overall picture of going from geochemistry to biochemistry to prokaryotes to eukaryotes in this 2003 paper:

On the origins of cells: a hypothesis for the evolutionary transitions from abiotic geochemistry to chemoautotrophic prokaryotes, and from prokaryotes to nucleated cells [royalsocie...ishing.org] - Martin and Russell, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 29 January 2003 vol. 358 no. 1429 59-85

They further clarify the possible pathways for a shift from geochemistry to biochemistry in this 2006 paper:

On the origin of biochemistry at an alkaline hydrothermal vent [royalsocie...ishing.org] - Martin and Russell, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 29 October 2007 vol. 362 no. 1486 1887-1926

A search for either of those followed by clicking on the "Cited By" link on Google Scholar will yield many papers, including some actual experiments supporting them, which expand and clarify these hypotheses. Definitely worth a read if you are interested in the possible origins of life on Earth, as well as perhaps some ideas of what to look for when looking for life elsewhere.

Anyway, point being, this is fantastic work by NASA, and an excellent example of showing that these molecules can form naturally. Just be careful about drawing any definite conclusions from them other than the simple conclusion that Uracil can form in these natural conditions, and possibly or probably others.

Re:Possible Interpretations... (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040882)

I agree that we shouldn't jump to specific conclusions. However, one of the chief oriticisms leveled by Creationists/IDers and panspermiests is that necessary organic molecules were unavailable and thus natural abiogenesis on Earth is impossible.

I like to think that what's being assembled is a catalog of compounds that were around prior to abiogenesis. This allows us to build more accurate models of both the environment and of potential pathways to the first primitive replicators.

I'm also a fan of the hydrothermal theory, and it does seem to be gaining some traction, because it gives a much "safer" environment for early replicating molecules to evolve, as well as a good source of energy.

Re:Possible Interpretations... (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30040994)

one of the chief oriticisms leveled by Creationists/IDers and panspermiests is that necessary organic molecules were unavailable and thus natural abiogenesis on Earth is impossible.

Most of the abiogenesis-is-impossible talks/discussions/arguments that I have heard chiefly deal with formation of life from the necessary molecules - e.g., the necessary protiens - not the formation of those molecules themselves. In other words, even if all the necessary components were there, those components don't magically create life. Scientists have not been able to talk the raw components, which we already have access to, and get them to form a something living, have they? (open to reading something about that if you have something to suggest; I have never heard of it or been referred to something, though).

Maybe I heard the wrong arguments. hehe.

Re:Possible Interpretations... (2, Informative)

interactive_civilian (205158) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041882)

Scientists have not been able to talk the raw components, which we already have access to, and get them to form a something living, have they?

Not a full on living system, no. However, the components, such as evolving self-replicators (in the form of RNA) have been made in labs. Pretty amazing stuff. (linky [npr.org] linky [newscientist.com] )

This is one of the things that annoys me about those kinds of creationist/ID arguments. It took nature on the order of 400(+/- 100) million years to go from inorganic geochemistry to free living chemoautotrophs, and yet, they somehow expect scientists to be able to replicate that in the lab in the half-century or so that we've been able to study such things, and state that scientists' inability to do it so far means that it was impossible for nature. I mean, jeez, give 'em at least a million years to run some experiments, eh? It's only fair.

Yes, I realize that if they cared about fairness, then they wouldn't spread deliberate lies about science and specifically about studies of evolution in order to push their agenda.

Re:Possible Interpretations... (1)

RianDouglas (778462) | more than 4 years ago | (#30042006)

In other words, even if all the necessary components were there, those components don't magically create life.

What is life, apart from very complex chemistry? If you belief there is some "magical" ingredient (something like Élan Vital), then you're going to have problems imagining life coming from complex chemical interactions alone - who gets to put the "magic" in? :-)

Of course, Élan Vital is a pretty bankrupt concept without supporting evidence, but that doesn't stop a large group of people from believing in it (or something very much like it) :-)

Scientists have not been able to talk the raw components, which we already have access to, and get them to form a something living, have they?

Scientists have been able to coax the building blocks to form polymers (short "proteins" from amino acids, short "RNA" molecules from nucleotides etc).
Scientists have also managed to "engineer" short strands of RNA (50 bases from memory, though I could be wrong), which in pairs were able to replicate themselves from a soup of the raw materials.
There's also quite a few speculative hypothesis concerning how these "raw materials" could have been concentrated to the point where these chemical interactions take place, as well as how the first cells may possibly have formed.

Hopefully a short google search will lead you to further information ;-)

What is life? (1)

interactive_civilian (205158) | more than 4 years ago | (#30042160)

What is life, apart from very complex chemistry? If you belief there is some "magical" ingredient (something like Élan Vital), then you're going to have problems imagining life coming from complex chemical interactions alone - who gets to put the "magic" in? :-)

Personally, I like this answer from the first of the two papers I linked above: a very simple definition of a living system might be: compartments separated from their surroundings that spontaneously multiply with energy gleaned through self-contained, thermodynamically favourable redox reactions. (Martin and Russell, 2003 [royalsocie...ishing.org] )

It's not just complex chemistry. It is self-organizing, self-contained complex chemistry. The standard biological definition of "life" requires the following 7 characteristics:

1.) organization - in which the cell is the fundamental unit of organization. The self contained compartments from the above definition.

2.) metabolism - both anabolism and catabolism

3.) homeostasis - maintaining its own internal balance

4.) growth - defined as "anabolism > catabolism"

5.) response to stimuli - very wide open definition, could be as simple as an enzyme changing conformation in the presence of a substrate

6.) adaptation - changing to fit ones surroundings, both in the sense of acclimation and evolution

7.) be the product of reproduction - this used to be "be able to reproduce" but it would be nonsense to argue that a mule is not alive.

For a very good look at what it takes to be a living cell, I recommend this paper for a fascinating read:

Molecules into Cells: Specifying Spatial Architecture [asm.org] - Harold, Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, December 2005, p. 544-564, Vol. 69, No. 4

Anyway, for those following along, these ideas are what biologists are talking when they talk about life and the formation of life. (Not disagreeing with the parent post... simply clarifying, expanding, and explaining). :)

BAH! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041200)

I gotta a sack full of building blocks. Funny, every time I empty it out, it just refills in about 30 minutes.. ready for another go. So, have your fun with your methane and sulfuric acids and lightning bolts (give my creature..LIIIIIFE!) I'm gonna make my babies the way god intended.

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Re:sell:shoes,handbags,T-shirt,Jeans,sunglass (1)

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So what? (1)

Strontosaurus (1245276) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041362)

Forming uracil out of a pyrimidine isn't that impressive. "Building block of life" my ass. Show me more.

God job boys, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041402)

Now we just need to create god in a lab.

Re:God job boys, (2, Funny)

kckman (885561) | more than 4 years ago | (#30041700)

A argument can be made that this has already happened. LSD anyone?

Not very impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041422)

The conversion from pyrimidine to uracil isn't a particularly complicated one. It's not hard to convince people, if only by considering the similarity if the molecular structures, the this sort of transition would have over geologic periods of time.

I'd be much more interested in them explaining the ring closure and double bond formations in the creation of pyrimidine.

Not unexpected... not really right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30041424)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller-Urey_experiment

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