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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Origin of life in hot water? Scalding water?

Discovery Institute advises,
Is the Origin of Life in Hot Water?
Is origin of life chemistry in hot water? So it seems according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors address the conundrum of origin of life chemists between the rate of (un-catalyzed) organic reactions and the lack of time available for these reactions to occur. From the article (note: an enzyme is a biological catalyst):

Whereas enzyme reactions ordinarily occur in a matter of milliseconds, the same reactions proceed with half-lives of hundreds, thousands, or millions of years in the absence of a catalyst. Yet life is believed to have taken hold within the first 25% of Earth's history. How could cellular chemistry and the enzymes that make life possible, have arisen so quickly?" [Internal citations omitted]

Indeed this is one of the problems with origin of life scenarios, particularly those scenarios that presume a metabolism-first world (as opposed to an RNA-first world). The half-life of certain reactions without a catalyst can be millions of years, but studies show that the emergence of early bacteria could be dated as far back as 3.5 billion years (see ENV post on a cold origin of life and Schopf, J. William, "The First Billion Years: When Did Life Emerge?" Elements vol 2:229 (2006) for more on this). This means there was a limited amount of time for fundamental biological reactions to occur. Reaction kinetics can be prohibitive. However, the authors of this paper have a theory to solve the reaction kinetics problem.
Do they? I bet you are going to go right ahead and spoil my illusions again,
Evil Discos. And to think I am just getting over the disappointments created by the primordial soup, the primordial pizza, and the chemical minestrone.

The trouble with all these "food fight" origin scenarios is the assumption that if a big enough mess gets made, order and information will happen naturally. As if.

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