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Sludge In Flask Gives Clues To Origin of Life

CmdrTaco posted more than 2 years ago | from the most-flasks-contain-solution-to-life's-problems dept.

Biotech 361

sciencehabit writes "In the 1950s, scientist Stanley Miller conducted a series of experiments in which he zapped gas-filled flasks with electricity. The most famous of these, published in 1952, showed that such a process could give rise to amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. But a later experiment, conducted in 1958, sat on the shelf--never analyzed by Miller. Now, scientists have gone back and analyzed the sludge at the bottom of this flask and found even more amino acids than before--and better evidence that lightning and volcanic gasses may have helped create life on Earth."

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Twinkie (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579180)

Didn't he leave a Twinkie sitting on the shelf too? (And scientists found fewer amino acids than ever before!)

Re:Twinkie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579252)

Didn't he leave a Twinkie sitting on the shelf too? (And scientists found fewer amino acids than ever before!)

ROFL..... :-|

THAT'S MY SPERM BANK'S MOTTO !! (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579230)

And they mean it in every imaginable way !!

Oh my... (2)

PmanAce (1679902) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579246)

* Goes off running to go show this to his creationist "friends"...*

Who will all just plug their ears (2)

killmenow (184444) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579262)

and say "NA! NA! NOT LISTENING!"

But don't let that stop you.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579364)

and say "NA! NA! NOT LISTENING!"

But don't let that stop you.

Yes, because as we all know, anyone who believes in a creator God is a backwards moron who hates science.

No person who believes in God could possibly embrace science as the best way we have yet to understand creation, separate fact from supposition, and advance our knowledge by appreciating the brains that God gave us. Just like no person who believes in God could possibly think that an almighty, all-knowing transcendental God for whom time is meaningless could have used evolution as the means of creating life on Earth, setting first causes into motion (i.e. big bang) content with the certainty that the result will unfold as desired. Thus, no person who believes in God can possibly be fascinated by what this scientist has discovered, right?

No person who believes in God can be anything other than a raving lunatic fanatic because ... because ... because if they were other than that, it would be harder for you to feel superior to them. Now there's a theory that fits the facts.

But as you said, don't let that stop you.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (4, Informative)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579560)

Change your rant. Replace 'anyone who believes in a creator God' with 'any creationist' and your rant is 100% true.

Except the babble after because...

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (4, Informative)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579562)

If you notice, he never said his religious friends. He said his creationist friends. Which can safely be assumed to fall into the raving lunatic bucket you describe.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (1, Insightful)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579726)

Creationist means that they believe in a creator. Youll note parent spoke of a creator in his description; his point was that there can be several causes for things-- a direct, physically observable cause, and a super-natural cause.

I also like the way "Scientist has found evidence that may give clues" has turned into a rant about how it proves that religious types are wrong. Who's making unscientific assertions, again?

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (2)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579844)

I don't disagree with your assertion, but when someone says "Creationist" here its a safe assumption that they mean someone from the ID, young earth, Satan hid the dino bones etc. spectrum, not the "A creator sparked the big bang/started up the server we're running on". The OP, however childish, was speaking specifically to the type of creationist that denies scientific evidence rather than working with it.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35580144)

The OP, however childish, was speaking specifically to the type of creationist that denies scientific evidence rather than working with it.

The OP did that while painting with a broad enough brush that no such distinction was made.

Yes, it was childish. Every movement, set of beliefs, etc has lunatics who make the rest of them look bad. Its just that, let's face it, we have decided in society that religious people in general and Christians in particular are OK to make fun of no matter how much we stereotype them in the process. Anyone who said that illegal aliens who join gangs and murder people are representative of all Mexicans would be called an ethnocentrist, and anyone who said that a crack dealer who happens to be black is a "typical black person" would be called a racist. Both would be regarded as bigots.

But make fun of all religious people in a gleeful, self-serving childish attempt to feel superior to them, portraying the typical creationist as an idiot who won't listen to scientific evidence, and that particular form of bigotry seems acceptable. For some reason.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (4, Informative)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579868)

There are several classes of creationists, but when used in such an obviously insulting way it may be assumed to refer to the young-earth creationists. The old-earth creationists have less of an obvious conflict because their claims are in general nonfalsifyable no matter what the evidence, while the young-earthers have to distort the evidence like a bonsai kitten to fit their claims.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (4, Informative)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579948)

Every creationist regardless of religious orientation depends on a logical fallacy to advance their beliefs. Which is essentially a form of lunacy as the OP advanced.

As soon as you reject occum's razor and introduce non-empirical shenanigans every theory is subject to the Spaghetti Monster/Last Tuesday fallacies.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (4, Insightful)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579582)

Yes, because as we all know, anyone who believes in a creator God is a backwards moron who hates science.

If they take their religion literally, I give them much respect. They are still wrong but at least they are true to their beliefs.

Today's 'religious' people very conveniently ignore the parts of religion they find distasteful or outright horrifying. Those people I do not give any respect towards their beliefs. If you want the 'good' parts you have to take the bad parts.

Religion is entirely a human creation - to explain the (at the time) unexplainable and to provide the ability to live 'nicely' with your neighbor. Every single religion on the planet has the same basic tenets; be nice, be honest, be good. That could be a sign of a 'creator' or it could just as easily be evidence of the same human desires manifesting themselves in very similar ways in disparate circumstances. In which case their 'creator' was 'necessity' the mother of invention.

Science is continually expanding our knowledge. What about religion? It is only clinging to the as yet unprovable factoids. It is introducing no new evidence to the record. Hell science is introducing proof of pieces of the biblical fables. Not of their true meaning but that they at least happened. I find that both infinitely fascinating and ironic.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (3, Insightful)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579754)

to explain the (at the time) unexplainable and to provide the ability to live 'nicely' with your neighbor

What part of the new testament tries to explain the origin of rain again, or states that the point is to live well with your neighbor? I seem to remember Jesus specifically going after those who placed too much emphasis on personal righteousness and rebuking them-- to the point where they desired his death.

The problem with today's armchair religious historians is that they make assertions such as these which fly in the face reality.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (3, Insightful)

The End Of Days (1243248) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579832)

The real problem with any religious activity is that it's a drain on human energy. There's no value in attempting to prove which particular set of fairy tales is true.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579884)

Those who claim religion while ignoring vast swathes of the holy text are in the position where both sides look down on them for effectively wimping out of the debate in order to live more comfortably.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (1)

skuzzlebutt (177224) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579622)

From your mouth to Darwin's ears, AC.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579704)

Just like no person who believes in God could possibly think that an almighty, all-knowing transcendental God for whom time is meaningless could have used evolution as the means of creating life on Earth, setting first causes into motion (i.e. big bang) content with the certainty that the result will unfold as desired.

Well, no one who's committed to reason can believe that, no. If human life on Earth is the desired result, an almighty, all-knowing transcendental God would not use evolution as the means. Nor would it sculpt them out of clay after seven days of puttering around. We're talking almighty here, why wait?

"Hmm. I'd like some humans. I could wait around for 13,000,000,000 years...nah. Bam! Alakazoom! Humans. Go build me a church already."

So, if one believes in the God-as-first-cause thing, it follows that either 1. God is not almighty, or 2. Human life on Earth is not the the desired result, or at least not the sole desired result.

One still has to deal with the fact that the hypothesis is both untestable (you can conduct no experiment to show the existence of such a God) and lacks explanatory power (it is simpler to say "the Universe has always been here" than to say "the Universe came from God, and God has always been here).

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (0, Offtopic)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579944)

> If human life on Earth is the desired result, an almighty, all-knowing transcendental God would not use evolution as the means.

I love it when people think they know more than God.

> Nor would it sculpt them out of clay after seven days of puttering around. We're talking almighty here, why wait?

You are correct -- but you have fallen for the red herring of literalism. Try reading the _2_ Genesis accounts -- there are numerous contradiction _intentionally_ placed in them to emphasize they are NOT meant to be literal. Only spiritually stupid fundamentalists do that.

> if one believes in the God-as-first-cause thing, it follows that either 1. God is not almighty, or 2. Human life on Earth is not the desired result, or at least not the sole desired result.

You are blinded by a false dichotomy. The 2 statements are not contradictory.

> (you can conduct no HUMAN experiment to show the existence of such a God)

FTFY. After you are dead you will have all the proof you need. i.e. Consciousness is not bound by human perspective/terms of life & death.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (2, Insightful)

NiceGeek (126629) | more than 2 years ago | (#35580042)

"I love it when people think they know more than God."

That's easy to do. I also know more than Zeus, Odin and Ra.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (0)

mevets (322601) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579776)

I. Are you trying to say that a belief in God and a literal belief in some book are the same thing?

II. I think the post you replied to was meant in jest - a kind of quick comedic quip or bon mot - to illustrate the silly nature of people waiting for the next bit of ammunition to bolster their side in an argument.
Even in his jest, he did isolation creationists, which are a small subset of people who have a belief in a god or supreme being. Creationists are not necessarily 'backwards morons'; but I don't think it is too much of a stretch to assert the contra-positive - 'backwards morons' are likely creationists. [ apologies to John Stuart Mill ].
Naive understanding is likely the key to creationism; and for want of a non-religious analogy, lets pretend I believe in Quantum Physics.
According to QP, at every event, the entire universe splits many times, reflecting the likelihood of the result of that event. In this belief, if I jumped off of the roof of a building, in some universes, I would fly away like a bird.
In a smaller set of universes, my consciousness would transfer across to the 'bird-me', thus although many-mes would splatter on the pavement, I would still enjoy the continued experience of flying like a bird.
That is clearly a ridiculous interpretation of the mathematics behind QP; however, a naive literalist may not see that.

III. The world has space for many beliefs; be it flying pasta-farians, people eating dinosaur steaks, or plummeting physicists, the nice thing is that there is room for all of us. Sure, 'outlier' beliefs will take some good natured knocking here and there, but that is just part of the fun of being alive. I don't need you to like getting high and listening to Pink Floyd for hours on end; you don't need me to help get the word out. We can all live quite happily.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (4, Insightful)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579874)

Ahhhh my teen years. No there can be intelligent people who believe in God. But they just haven't spent enough time thinking about all of that to realize that such a God is a complete and utter asshole who you better errr... pray, doesn't actually exist.

Think about it. He's all powerful. He's all caring. He creates a universe with deterministic laws which will undoubtedly create a very specific result... and we're the best he could do?

Any engineer who isn't a raving lunatic could sketch the basic design for a new species you want evolved which isn't subject to so much pain and suffering in about 3 minutes.

If we're the product of a divine plan set to unfold over billions of years than God is a callous asshole without any ethics.

Furthermore if you assume that God used science (and a deterministic universe) to create us that we have no free will. Without free will we all are behaving exactly as programmed and once again God is responsible for all of our actions. Which means when Hitler exterminated the Jews... God. When the Tsunami washed across Japan... God. Etc...

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (1)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 2 years ago | (#35580114)

He creates a universe with deterministic laws which will undoubtedly create a very specific result... and we're the best he could do?

Maybe we are living in the universe that God left in a flask on the shelf without checking on us further. That would mean that God's chosen people are actually living in the other flask He carries around with Him, and which he occasionally gives it the odd shake.

Or maybe we are not the finished product yet. God is still waiting to hear the "ding!" that will sound when the human race is cooked finally.

Or maybe God's plan for the universe is so ingenious that the chosen people will actually evolved from the unchecked flask of Stanley Miller. At least, that was what was supposed to happen before those pesky scientists went back and fiddled with the mixture!

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (1)

Mojofreem (556489) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579954)

"Creationists" and belief in evolution are mutually exclusive:

creationism
[kree-ey-shuh-niz-uhm]
-noun

  1. the doctrine that matter and all things were created, substantially as they now exist, by an omnipotent Creator, and not gradually evolved or developed.
  2. ( sometimes initial capital letter ) the doctrine that the true story of the creation of the universe is as it is recounted in the Bible, especially in the first chapter of Genesis.

While there are many scientists who find no conflict between their spiritual beliefs and the scientific method, creationists directly reject the scientific method.

Creationism and belief in an initial creation are not the same thing. Belief in creationism, by definition, requires rejection of well established scientific principles of geology, astronomy, evolution, and various other fields of research.

While I am an athiest, I respect other peoples beliefs in spiritual ideas that are beyond the bounds of current science. However, I reject any call for acceptance of beliefs of those who reject well established knowledge based on nothing more than self contradictory texts written by superstitious iron age villagers.

Jumpy aren't you? (1)

formfeed (703859) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579988)

... no person who believes in God can possibly be fascinated by what this scientist has discovered, right?

No person who believes in God can be anything other than a raving lunatic fanatic because ...

Some fundamentalist atheists might claim that. And they often do so on /. But this time you jumped the gun. The claim was only that some religious people refuse to listen to anything scientific unless they just made it up themselves.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (-1, Flamebait)

FatAlb3rt (533682) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579366)

1. Lightning zaps a volcano
2. Wait X [m/b]illion years
3. ...
4. Profit

And yet the creationists are the ones with fairy tales? [does not compute]

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579438)

1. put forth old meme for no reason
2. remember it wrong
3. refuse to copypasta
4. FAIL

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (5, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579588)

1. Lightning zaps a volcano

2. Wait X [m/b]illion years

3. ...

4. Profit

And yet the creationists are the ones with fairy tales? [does not compute]

Until and unless scientists can create actual life forms in a sterile clean-room from periodic table elements, life on this planet and exactly how it got here remains quite a bit more myserious than some would have you believe despite our best efforts to understand it.

Personally the part that confounds me is that DNA is highly organized information. Assuming a starting point of a planet with no life forms and no pre-existing DNA to bootstrap the process, its formation seems like negentropy in an otherwise entropic Universe. Evolution doesn't seem to have a real answer to this question other than throwing large amounts of time at the problem. Creationism merely relocates the problem; one could ask if God created all of this then what are God's origins, or if there was never a time when God did not exist how does one even begin to comprehend that or really understand what that means? Panspermia of course has the same flaw; if Earth got its life from a visiting comet/asteriod then where did that get living organisms?

Any way you look at it, the very fact that we're here to have this discussion is incredibly mysterious. I don't share the urge some have to dismiss or gloss over that fact. I actually find it a beautiful thing to celebrate, not a nuisance to be explained away.

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (2)

LordLimecat (1103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579856)

If I had modpoints, I would mod you up-- not because I agree with you but because you have given more thought to this than "how can I troll religious folk?"

Creationism merely relocates the problem; one could ask if God created all of this then what are God's origins, or if there was never a time when God did not exist how does one even begin to comprehend that or really understand what that means?

Well, as I see it, THAT particular mindbender will be there whether you espouse secular or supernatural origins. If the Big Bang was just a ball of stuff, where did that stuff come from? (Stephen Hawking speculated recently that it just 'popped into existence' "due to gravity"; but that doesnt really solve the problem) If it was always there, then presumably this cycle of Bang-Crunch has already run on for an eternity, and should have run out of the necessary energy to continue rebounding between states.; and once again you have a situation where you must ask "what does that mean that there was time before said ball".

Its really a question of attribution (God, or some as-of-yet unnamed cause); the questions about "what does eternity look like" and "what is time before time" remain, either way.

(If some non-armchair physicist can correct any errors in my above assumptions, I would be appreciative.)

Re:Who will all just plug their ears (1)

gameboyhippo (827141) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579638)

This sounds amazingly familiar for some reason. Could it be that the neo-atheist do the same thing? Naw...

Re:Oh my... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579336)

* Goes off running to go show this to his creationist "friends"...*

Try showing them when it's actually life and more than just amino acids. Might get farther.

Re:Oh my... (1)

Manos_Of_Fate (1092793) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579530)

Try showing them when it's actually life and more than just amino acids. Might get farther.

I'm guessing they'll probably all be dead in a billion years.

Re:Oh my... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579612)

And maybe the protein from their dead bodies will combine with the amino acids and somehow form new life. In the meantime, this experiment still offers only clues that may one day yield an answer, and conclusively proves nothing, but that won't stop atheists from running their mouths like it does. They're almost as bad as Christians who find a shipwreck on a mountain and proclaim they've found the ark.

Re:Oh my... (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579500)

actually if you note that equal numbers of left and right handed amino acids were produced. I think the left handed ones would be considered toxic to any "life" being formed
plus the experiment filtered out a bunch of very nasty TAR from the gunk. so unless you can even using a pair of 100MW tesla coils and a "beaker" the size of a small shed get a pocket of just right handed amino acids then the staff of AIG and ICR will not give you any points.

Re:Oh my... (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579534)

How will that change their beliefs?
The concept of gods being the cause of lightning and volcanoes have been in religion since pre-history.
So the lightning is from God and that volcanic gas reminds people of volcanic eruptions that creates Lava which when breaks down makes a good soil/dust/mixed with water (mud) Heck the sludge could be considered mud by some people.

You just put more fuel to their beliefs.

Re:Oh my... (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579764)

* Goes off running to go show this to his creationist "friends"...*

You do realize that if you get noisy, they will too, right?

Earth is BIG (0)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579254)

I'm of the understanding that the origin of life can be traced back (in theory) to hydrothermal vents deep within the ocean. As they evolved, they found a new source of energy closer to the surface. And thus photosynthesis was formed. But how is it that lightning formed amino acids found they're way deep among the deep ocean floor, and in large enough quantities for life to have formed and survive? There must have been quite a bit of trial and error in nature for something to have perpetuated to this day.

Re:Earth is BIG (4, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579302)

But how is it that lightning formed amino acids found they're way deep among the deep ocean floor, and in large enough quantities for life to have formed and survive?

Two words: shit sinks

Re:Earth is BIG (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579346)

My shit don't sink.

Re:Earth is BIG (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579472)

There might actually be a health concern behind that, if that is so. Suggests that your body is not metabolizing fat well.

Re:Earth is BIG (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579496)

My shit don't sink.

Shit, man. Consult your doctor.

Re:Earth is BIG (1)

aztektum (170569) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579536)

Really it does. It's just you're so full of it, it fills the bowl. It only looks like it's on top of the water.

Re:Earth is BIG (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579340)

Yes.

Re:Earth is BIG (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579462)

Why did there have to be a single point of origin?

Archaea are very different from other extant organisms, why couldn't some extremophiles have evolved down at the vents or in the crust while others did up near the surface?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaea [wikipedia.org]

Re:Earth is BIG (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579706)

They're actually very similar, in the grand scheme of things. They're DNA and RNA based, use the same amino acids (or at least, almost exactly the same) etc. There was a common ancestor between archaea and all known life, so far as I know.

It's quite possible that life evolved twice, or more than twice. The trick would be recognizing it when we see it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_biosphere

Re:Earth is BIG (2)

snkiz (1786676) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579840)

The article points to a few methods the amino acids could be produced in nature, (including underwater vents) and the experiment seems to back that up. So given that amino acids are not that hard to produce, the question of life isn't what caused the amino acids to form (because similar conditions exist on other planets in our own solar system and beyond.) The question is what caused the amino acids to begin to form the complex chains that actually are life.

Re:Earth is BIG (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579904)

Possibly when the earth was young and hot there was greater volcanic activity and so hydrothermal vents were not as deep as they are now? Also maybe earth had less water back then and so shallower oceans.

Re:Earth is BIG (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579990)

I'm of the understanding that the origin of life can be traced back (in theory) to hydrothermal vents deep within the ocean.

No, it can't be traced back to any origin. Hydrothermal vents represent one of many conjectures of what kind of environment let it happen.

Re:Earth is BIG (4, Insightful)

ebuck (585470) | more than 2 years ago | (#35580142)

Disclaimer: i was a student under one of Miller's former post-docs. That doesn't mean I know much more than you.

From my understanding, the problems to be solved had to do with the misconception that organic molecules could only be made "organically." It was well known that life makes amino acids, fats, etc.; however, it was also well known that such things were done by the action of enzymes or other structures within living cells. So the question was more of a "how do we break the chicken-and-egg paradox?" instead of "can we reverse engineer exactly how life was created".

The fact that you could start off with inorganic materials and make organic building blocks without a living system processing them was the ground shaking breakthrough. Once you had that, then it's easy to conjecture that enough organic molecules would eventually build up that some of them would become self-organizing (and eventually resemble life). If some other technique was discovered to make organic molecules from inorganic, then the key missing link would still have been satisfied.

Why wasn't the experiment ever repeated? (5, Informative)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579270)

I was going to say "How do they know there was no contamination?", but TFA states that equal amounts of right handed and left handed organic molecules were found, ruling out contamination as a source of the amino acids.

Re:Why wasn't the experiment ever repeated? (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579494)

It has been repeated many times, in a variety of ways. This is more "history" than "science". The original experimenters for some reason didn't analyze the data, so it's like completing the experiment, a half-century later. Think of it as "closure".

There are some moderately novel results from this. There are so many variables in the experiment that there's hardly any reason to do the same one twice. In this case, the inputs had some more sulfur than other experiments, and they got out some different amino acids.

But it's more interesting, if not scientifically important, solely because of the origin of these data. The actual conclusions are less relevant than the fact that they finally got around to this piece of history.

No Repeats? (3, Interesting)

Alaren (682568) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579284)

I'm curious as to whether these results have been revisited--or replicated--since the 1950s. This article seems to indicate that people have been talking about the experiment without really revisiting the science for more than half a century.

Biology is not my area of expertise, but I have to wonder why we haven't managed to "create life" yet (or have we?). It seems like such an experiment could yield a lot of results that would be important for everything from medicine (understanding where we came from may give us better insight into where we are now) to space travel (isn't one of the variables in the Drake equation the likelihood of life appearing? Wouldn't we need to know what it takes for life to emerge in order to calculate that?).

Are the experiments just not economically promising enough? More complicated than they sound? I'd be very interested to know more about this area of research from someone with actual background in the field.

Re:No Repeats? (5, Informative)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579348)

I have to wonder why we haven't managed to "create life" yet.

It took hundreds of millions of years and a lab the size of a planet to do it the first time. It may take more than a few decades to reproduce that.

Re:No Repeats? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579542)

A simple protein can be made from as few as 50 or as many as several thousand amino acids, and they must all be put together in a specific order.
The average functional protein contains 200 amino acids. The simple cell contains thousands of different proteins.

The probability of just one protein contain just 100 amino acids forming by itself is a mind boggling huge number.

Oh, and you need RNA first before you can make a protein, yet proteins are used to make RNA...

Re:No Repeats? (1)

Danse (1026) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579846)

A simple protein can be made from as few as 50 or as many as several thousand amino acids, and they must all be put together in a specific order. The average functional protein contains 200 amino acids. The simple cell contains thousands of different proteins. The probability of just one protein contain just 100 amino acids forming by itself is a mind boggling huge number. Oh, and you need RNA first before you can make a protein, yet proteins are used to make RNA...

Lot of claims there, with no evidence presented for support.

Re:No Repeats? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579964)

I have to wonder why we haven't managed to "create life" yet.

It took hundreds of millions of years and a lab the size of a planet to do it the first time. It may take more than a few decades to reproduce that.

But that's waiting for ideal conditions, where as we can do it thousands of times a day per lab using precise conditions according to the current theories.

Re:No Repeats? (1, Funny)

sdguero (1112795) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579388)

Biology is not my area of expertise, but I have to wonder why we haven't managed to "create life" yet (or have we?).

I create life every morning. Unfortunately it usually goes swirling down the shower drain.

Re:No Repeats? (0)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579416)

These experiments are considered extremely dangerous by scientists. They might accidentally create another Rush Limbaugh!

Re:No Repeats? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579596)

Creating implies intelligent design. If Rush Limbaugh is your best example for that, I foresee a sudden surge in the acceptance of evolution.

Re:No Repeats? (1)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579428)

Jc venter is very close to synthetic life where all things in the lifeform are synthrtic. As for what you asked earlier, many people have replicated the work. You have to look to find... yahoo news isn't about to publish astory where someone repeated something... get me?

Re:No Repeats? (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 2 years ago | (#35580140)

What Venter is doing is trying to solve the problem from the other end, trying to replicate something very much like existing life forms, using DNA, but made entirely from non-living materials. The first replicators would be far, far simpler than what he wants to do.

Both are important work, but the latter is what people have in mind when they talk about creating life from scratch. Venter's experiment will prove that an intelligent designer can create a complex life form, but it doesn't prove that it can arise without one.

What you really want is to start with Miller-Urey and keep going until you've got bacteria, but that's a lot harder. We have guesses as to what the intermediate steps are, but nobody has a complete picture yet.

Re:No Repeats? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579468)

1- Create life- done.; the polio virus has been synthetically produced from nothing more then amino acid chains, an electron microscope and a lot of patience. The scary part will be when either the technology becomes easy enough to synthetically produce complex life, or someone designs a virus that has never been seen before. It of course relies on this experiment to explain where those amino acids came from to first go together to make things, and the polio virus is several orders of magnitude simpler then even the simplest truly autonomous lifeform.

2-Why not repeat this experiment: Complexity, cost, time, reason:
Complexity- doing this experiment the first time took a researcher 25 years of his life zapping assorted vials of sludge with electricity before he could find a result among them, while some of this can be automated; it would still be a VERY complex experiment taking thousands of man hours to repeat
Cost- Thousands of man hours for a reasearch scientists tranlates to a significant chunk of money.
Time- and it could take 25 years, or more, to get the same result. Further, the current theroy of evolution is such that it took perhaps real world thousands of years for those amino acids to build anything useful by random chance; so outside of the create life experiment where reasearchers took an existing string of amino acids and built an existing 'life' (virii populating a weird place of 'not quite alive'); so it would take millions of bottles of sludge sitting on shelves for thousands of years before you had true autonomous life in them (by which time it may have starved to death by depleting its own resources).
Reason- Baring plugging your fingers in your ears and pretending this experiment never took place no one has ever found fault with the experiment which proved that it is in fact possible to build amino acids from primordial sluge energized by electricity akin to that generated by thunderstorms, except to say 'it's been done TWICE' to the same people who refuse to believe that it's been done once what possible purpose would this serve?

Re:No Repeats? (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#35580096)

1- Create life- done.; the polio virus has been synthetically produced

I was astonished to learn that biologists don't consider viruses to be "life". They don't meet some of the criteria of the common definition(s) of life.

Speak for yourself (1)

Tigger's Pet (130655) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579570)

I managed to create life - in fact I did it twice. All I needed was my willing wife and 9 months each time. Come to think about it, I'm not sure that the "willing" part would be that important either.

Re:No Repeats? (1)

IICV (652597) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579740)

We haven't revisited it because there's really no point.

The conditions on ancient Earth were, basically, various different permutations on this experiment repeated over and over again in a million trillion gallons of water (i.e, the entirety of the liquid water present on this planet) for several million years. The Miller-Urey experiment was conducted in order to demonstrate feasibility, and it did so; in conditions similar to what we think the ancient Earth looked like, the basic building blocks of life would have been present.

Why revisit it? We can't go much further than they did; after all, it's not like we've got a lot of water in which to conduct this experiment over and over again for a long period of time; and even if we did, all we'd get out of it are some self-replicating molecules that we probably already know about.

The original experiment showed that it was feasible. With what we know about organic chemistry (this stuff is so simple it doesn't even qualify as biology), self-replication and thence natural selection are both inevitable, once you have feasibility, time and space. The original experiment proved we have the former, and geology proves we have the latter. QED.

The only reason why this is being revisited right now is because there's a lot of Americans who don't actually believe in abiogenesis, and thus there's some funding available to try and convince them.

(not that any amount of evidence will change their minds, because the root of their disbelief doesn't lie in a lack of evidence)

Re:No Repeats? (2)

asher09 (1684758) | more than 2 years ago | (#35580014)

One of the major reasons has to do with safety. The Miller experiment was done in a closed system of glassware that was under pressure from heat and sparks (albeit having a condenser). I got my PhD in a lab next door to Jeffrey Bada's lab (one of the authors and a former student of Miller's). So I used to use Prof. Bada's lab for their NH3 tank for Birch reduction, etc (our lab was not equipped with a liquid NH3 tank for EHS reasons), and I remember thinking there's no way I'd want to be close to this glassware if the Miller experiment was repeated especially given the presence of H2, etc. When you look at the video footage of Miller with the glassware, you'll notice he wasn't even wearing safety goggles. Chemists used to have a completely different mentality back then. For instance, some of my mentors used to smoke cigarettes right next to a squirt bottle of diethyl ether "back in the days". Today, it's unthinkable!!!
Regardless, this experiment is still irrelevant because those gases Miller used (H2S, H2, NH3, CO2, esp.) cannot coexist in the same place for any appreciable amount of time. Gases like CO2 would not exist without a significant amt of O2, but H2S, H2, NH3, etc (and the amino acid products) would be quickly oxidized at elevated temp in the presence of O2. Moreover, if O2 was absent, unfiltered UV radiation (w/out O2, no O3 layer) would also quickly destroy those reducing gases and amino acid products.

Re:No Repeats? (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#35580072)

I'm curious as to whether these results have been revisited--or replicated--since the 1950s. This article seems to indicate that people have been talking about the experiment without really revisiting the science for more than half a century.

I don't know why no one else has done it, but for my money it's not very interesting anymore. We've since discovered that amino acids form even in deep space. It's just organic chemistry. The interesting question is how do we narrow down all the conjectures about how life might have gotten started, to the one(s) that actually happened.

Biology is not my area of expertise, but I have to wonder why we haven't managed to "create life" yet (or have we?).

I haven't read anything about it for a few years, but we're probably within a few years of it. Several well-funded teams have been working on it.

However, AFAIK none of them are working on life "as we know it". They're just taking the common biological definition (metabolism, reproduction, etc.) and trying to build a minimal chemical system that does it.

Somewhere I've seen a chart of the reactions one team had designed, but as of then they didn't have all of it actually working.

Re:No Repeats? (3, Interesting)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 2 years ago | (#35580092)

There are plenty of repeats of this - they just don't bother publishing them because there isn't much new to learn.

In fact, we repeated a version of the Urey-Miller experiment in my undergraduate biology lab independent project. The hard pard was going around bumming free equipment (high voltage transformer from the EE dept, balloons of elementary gases from the chemistry dept, even the help of a very cool tech in the physics dept who helped us make a simple spark gap chamber out of a glass bottle, a couple tungsten rods, and a blowtorch).

The goal was to repeat a few times with slightly different starting materials, and see what different amino acids we could find. Unfortunately, we managed to blow up the custom made spark bottle on the second run; someone dropped it and caused a hairline crack after the first run, and that let enough oxygen get in after we (not-so-successfully) evacuated it to cause a nice little explosion after turning on the spark gap. Luckily we were careful enough to put it under an enclosed fume hood ;)

In the end it was more an exersice in begging for supplies than novel science. But that was probably a lot more useful skill to learn for a budding researcher than how to inseminate a sea urchin...

Re:No Repeats? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35580098)

As one would expect, there have been many similar experiments performed since the original Miller-Urey experiment. This is partly because the views about constitution of atmosphere and other primordial conditions have changed since those days.

Pinatubo 1991 (1)

srussia (884021) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579286)

Journal entry: Lightning and volcanic gases... gotta get outta here.

TAR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579298)

The amino acids he created were all left handed, and were similar to tar. Created in a environment void of oxygen... etc. Not applicable to the evolution theory, not conductive to spawning life.

Re:TAR (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579564)

Early earth was a reducing environment, not an oxidizing one.

Science. (0)

andrea.sartori (1603543) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579310)

In other words: Leaving a flask alone for 53 years might give rise to amino-acids.

Re:Science. (1)

RickyG (1009867) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579484)

In legal terms, there is the concept of "chain of evidence" meaning that the material has not left authorized hands, nor sat on a shelf unattended for 53 years. If this was a murder trial, that "chain of evidence" would be completely broken. If this is required to prove the death of someone, it surely must apply to prove the "life" of something.

Re:Science. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579578)

In legal terms, there is the concept of "chain of evidence" meaning that the material has not left authorized hands, nor sat on a shelf unattended for 53 years. If this was a murder trial, that "chain of evidence" would be completely broken. If this is required to prove the death of someone, it surely must apply to prove the "life" of something.

If you have a corpse, and you can identify who it is, but you don't know where it was for a little while, you're no longer sure that that person is dead?

Re:Science. (1)

aardwolf64 (160070) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579644)

Your analogy is broken...

This is more like finding worms eating a corpse, and then saying it's proof that the worms must have been there when the person was living.

Re:Science. (2)

Danse (1026) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579890)

In legal terms, there is the concept of "chain of evidence" meaning that the material has not left authorized hands, nor sat on a shelf unattended for 53 years. If this was a murder trial, that "chain of evidence" would be completely broken. If this is required to prove the death of someone, it surely must apply to prove the "life" of something.

If you have a corpse, and you can identify who it is, but you don't know where it was for a little while, you're no longer sure that that person is dead?

I think the point must be that since we don't know what was going on with the flask during all those years, God could have easily slipped in and planted those amino acids!

it surely must apply (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579624)

Proof doesn't work that way in science. 'Proof' isn't really a scientific concept. Disproved is common in science though.

Reproducibility (1)

degeneratemonkey (1405019) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579314)

I have very little doubt about the accuracy of this article or the findings of those who've reexamined Miller's work. My question is, why aren't we actively reproducing the results of this experiment and others like it? I can find very little mention of any recent studies like this, despite how much potential such experimentation would have in opening up entirely new fields of research.

Re:Reproducibility (1)

eNygma-x (1137037) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579386)

Yes, like new viruses from scratch.

Re:Reproducibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579518)

I have very little doubt about the accuracy of this article or the findings of those who've reexamined Miller's work.

That's exactly why no one is actively reproducing the results. Science isn't free and proposing to reproduce results doesn't get you funding and reproducing them doesn't get you published. What new fields would be opened up by reproducing an already accepted result?

Re:Reproducibility (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579580)

They have been. The original experiment (less sulfur) is sometimes performed in HIgh School and College classes- or at least in the better equipped ones.

Serious investigation and research has moved past it, as it was merely(!) a demonstration that amino acids and other complex precursors to life could very easily be created from the "basics" in environments similar, if not identical, to those found on the early Earth. The surprising thing was that was so easy and a lot less a complicated process than anyone had thought.

  That was the wondrous part of the original experimentsl and not that anyone expected that if they kept adding a complete collection of Secret Ingredients and ran the electic arc long enough, critters would start crawling out of the flask. The re-discovered experiments performed by Miller look to be refinements of the original, true, but merely reinforce the initial results and expand the possible environmental factors involved.

Re:Reproducibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579646)

There is a whole field doing studies of the RNA world. Scientists sort of don't care if you can make amino acids, because there is a LOT MORE to life than just making amino acids. Of more interest than 'What if Miller was wrong?' is the question of 'What would have happened next, assuming Miller was right?'

Some answers to that are available, with researchers having designed RNA molecules that can self-replicate given certain cycles of going into and out of solution, with raw materials present, and other more complicated RNA machines being discovered, modified, and even designed.

However, even within the academic community, RNA world scientists don't get a lot of attention.

Re:Reproducibility (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579828)

Basically, the reason you do not see much further work with experiments like this is because the assumptions behind it were badly flawed. The early atmosphere of the earth is no longer considered to have been composed of the chemicals in the proportions that were assumed (and used) for this experiment. Additionally, amino acids are no longer considered to be the precursor building blocks to life. That role is now believed to belong to RNA. These two facts make this experiment merely an interesting footnote and not the groundbreaking study it was viewed as at the time (and is sometimes still presented as).

If true... (1)

U8MyData (1281010) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579344)

That could really put a spin on things. Evolution ~ Creationism. Humm...

Re:If true... (2, Insightful)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579400)

It just proves that 6000 years ago God created life by zapping with lighting a flask filled with methane and hydrogen sulfide!

Re:If true... (2)

trollertron3000 (1940942) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579606)

Not much though. Creation of amino acids in the "primordial soup" does not explain where life came from, which is what both of those theories are in search of. Also, the original experiment has been improved greatly so they have the data now to confirm the formation of amino acids along with other building blocks. Fact is there's still a huge gap of knowledge between molecule and cell formation.

One interesting theory, possibly related depending on your view, is RNA-first formation. Another is silicate-based. There is a lot of info out there on these and other theories but if you want a good read on the subject of the formation of life I highly recommend the book Life as We Do Not Know It: The NASA Search for (and Synthesis of) Alien Life, by Peter Ward. *Warning* this book contains unscientific generalizations from a geologist *Warning*

Re:If true... (3, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 2 years ago | (#35580122)

That could really put a spin on things. Evolution ~ Creationism. Humm...

No amount of evidence would convince creationists that they're wrong.

As the saying goes, you can't use reason to leverage someone out of an opinion that wasn't acquired by reason.

Just imagine (5, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579372)

If examining sludge in a 50-year old flask can give clues to the origin of life, just imagine what scientists could learn by examining the inside of my fridge!

Re:Just imagine (1)

Manos_Of_Fate (1092793) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579574)

The fact that you like Gnutella is not useful to evolutionary scientists.

Re:Just imagine (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579862)

Wait... you keep your Gnutella [wikipedia.org] in the fridge? Why?

Re:Just imagine (1)

Manos_Of_Fate (1092793) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579882)

Don't judge me!

Re:Just imagine (2)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579872)

sludge in a 50-year old flask

Gnutella

I'll add that to my Top 10 Freudian Slips list.

Re:Just imagine (1)

Manos_Of_Fate (1092793) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579960)

Man, it has been one of those days...

Original experiment was featured on Cosmos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35579390)

Are there now billions and billions of amino acids?

RNA World Hypothesis Says No (4, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579456)

In the fifties, when these experiments was set in motion, it had just recently been proven that DNA was the mechanism by which cells passed on their programming to their offspring. Prior to that, the common belief was that proteins did all the work, and that DNA was just a structural fibre like cellulose. Today, we're strongly of the opinion that not only was protein less relevant to early life, but probably completely irrelevant, as we've determined that RNA can perform the role of both DNA (information storage) and proteins (enzymes and structure). Evidence suggests that it once performed both of these roles exclusively, and that DNA and proteins evolved because they were tools better-suited to certain tasks.

THEREFORE: the availability of amino acids isn't relevant to the origin of life; only that they're around later for higher life forms to evolve. We really need to worry about the availability of ribonucleotides. The idea that we need to worry about the availability of amino acids only comes later.

Man that article sucks` (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 2 years ago | (#35579486)

That article sucks horribly they missed such a huge opportunity for jokes if only they had called it ooze instead of sludge.
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