Life could have emerged from lakes with high phosphorus

University of Washington

IMAGE: Eastern California's Mono Lake has no outflow, allowing salts to build up over time. The high salts in this carbonate-rich lake can grow into pillars. Credit: Matthew Dillon/Flickr
IMAGE: Eastern California’s Mono Lake has no outflow, allowing salts to build up over time. The high salts in this carbonate-rich lake can grow into pillars. Credit: Matthew Dillon/Flickr

Life as we know it requires phosphorus. It’s one of the six main chemical elements of life, it forms the backbone of DNA and RNA molecules, acts as the main currency for energy in all cells and anchors the lipids that separate cells from their surrounding environment.

But how did a lifeless environment on the early Earth supply this key ingredient?

“For 50 years, what’s called ‘the phosphate problem,’ has plagued studies on the origin of life,” said first author Jonathan Toner, a University of Washington research assistant professor of Earth and space sciences.

The problem is that chemical reactions that make the building blocks of living things need a lot of phosphorus, but phosphorus is scarce. A new UW study, published Dec. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds an answer to this problem in certain types of lakes.

The study focuses on carbonate-rich lakes, which form in dry environments within depressions that funnel water draining from the surrounding landscape. Because of high evaporation rates, the lake waters concentrate into salty and alkaline, or high-pH, solutions. Such lakes, also known as alkaline or soda lakes, are found on all seven continents.

The researchers first looked at phosphorus measurements in existing carbonate-rich lakes, including Mono Lake in California, Lake Magadi in Kenya and Lonar Lake in India.

While the exact concentration depends on where the samples were taken and during what season, the researchers found that carbonate-rich lakes have up to 50,000 times phosphorus levels found in seawater, rivers and other types of lakes. Such high concentrations point to the existence of some common, natural mechanism that accumulates phosphorus in these lakes.

Today these carbonate-rich lakes are biologically rich and support life ranging from microbes to Lake Magadi’s famous flocks of flamingoes. These living things affect the lake chemistry. So researchers did lab experiments with bottles of carbonate-rich water at different chemical compositions to understand how the lakes accumulate phosphorus, and how high phosphorus concentrations could get in a lifeless environment.

The reason these waters have high phosphorus is their carbonate content. In most lakes, calcium, which is much more abundant on Earth, binds to phosphorus to make solid calcium phosphate minerals, which life can’t access. But in carbonate-rich waters, the carbonate outcompetes phosphate to bind with calcium, leaving some of the phosphate unattached. Lab tests that combined ingredients at different concentrations show that calcium binds to carbonate and leaves the phosphate freely available in the water.

“It’s a straightforward idea, which is its appeal,” Toner said. “It solves the phosphate problem in an elegant and plausible way.”

Phosphate levels could climb even higher, to a million times levels in seawater, when lake waters evaporate during dry seasons, along shorelines, or in pools separated from the main body of the lake.

“The extremely high phosphate levels in these lakes and ponds would have driven reactions that put phosphorus into the molecular building blocks of RNA, proteins, and fats, all of which were needed to get life going,” said co-author David Catling, a UW professor of Earth & space sciences.

The carbon dioxide-rich air on the early Earth, some four billion years ago, would have been ideal for creating such lakes and allowing them to reach maximum levels of phosphorus. Carbonate-rich lakes tend to form in atmospheres with high carbon dioxide. Plus, carbon dioxide dissolves in water to create acid conditions that efficiently release phosphorus from rocks.

“The early Earth was a volcanically active place, so you would have had lots of fresh volcanic rock reacting with carbon dioxide and supplying carbonate and phosphorus to lakes,” Toner said. “The early Earth could have hosted many carbonate-rich lakes, which would have had high enough phosphorus concentrations to get life started.”

Another recent study by the two authors showed that these types of lakes can also provide abundant cyanide to support the formation of amino acids and nucleotides, the building blocks of proteins, DNA and RNA. Before then researchers had struggled to find a natural environment with enough cyanide to support an origin of life. Cyanide is poisonous to humans, but not to primitive microbes, and is critical for the kind of chemistry that readily makes the building blocks of life.


The research was funded by the Simons Foundation’s Collaboration on the Origins of Life.

From EurekAlert!

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Ferd III
January 2, 2020 2:28 am

So DNA, software, operating systems, amino acids, proteins and design complexity arose from nothing, soupy ponds with phosphorous and magic Star Trek stardust? Did Chewbaca seed the ponds?
How would amino acids form complex protein chains from ‘chance’? What mathematical probability can be applied to this process (it is less than zero) ? How long would it take ? Where in the natural world is the ‘experiment’ showing how all of this magic is done?
Not science, just stupid and just propaganda, as bad as Warmtarding.

Krishna Gans
Reply to  Ferd III
January 2, 2020 3:14 am

To begin understanding start with Stanley Miller, f.e. or Thomas Gold to go into deprh.

Krishna Gans
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 2, 2020 3:39 am

Sorry for typo, depth
Not easy to type on phone…

Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 2, 2020 6:49 pm

Try Eugene Koonin’s The Logic of Chance: The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution.

John Tillman
Reply to  Ralph Dave Westfall
January 3, 2020 4:08 pm

Please state what point you’re trying to make by citing evolutionary and computational molecular biologist Koonin’s book. Thanks!

Reply to  Ferd III
January 2, 2020 3:31 am

… and magic Star Trek stardust? Did Chewbaca seed the ponds?

Oh dear, sounds like we have a triggered creationist on board.

What mathematical probability can be applied to this process (it is less than zero) ?

Mathematics and stats, not your strong suite I guess.

Not science, just stupid and just propaganda

So without presenting a single scientific point and a bunch of presumably sarcastic, rhetorical questions, you think you can claim this is not science.

Since you clearly have not the slightest understanding of science, maths or logical discourse, I suggest you stick to belief. That’s fine you have a constitutional right to believe whatever you want.

If your world view is belief based, best stick with that. Don’t try engaging in logic to back it up, it may not end well. Your defensive reaction indicates you may already know that deep down.

This research is interesting as far as it goes, showing high concentrations of accessible phosphate can and do exist. It does not prove life came from Star Trek dust , nor does it prove God does not exist.

Science still has nothing better than : “in the beginning there was the word, and the word was Bang”. So there’s plenty of room for faith in science too.

The carbon dioxide-rich air on the early Earth, some four billion years ago, would have been ideal for creating such lakes and allowing them to reach maximum levels of phosphorus

Once again we see that CO2 is basis of all life on Earth, not end of life on Earth.

Reply to  Greg
January 2, 2020 4:18 am

Why don’t you ask ferd what they are instead of ASSUming? You sound just as triggered. Are you?

Tired Old Nurse
Reply to  Greg
January 2, 2020 5:13 am

I’m a creationist/intelligent designist/whateverist and math and statistics aren’t my strong suit either. I also believe in science. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.


John Tillman
Reply to  Tired Old Nurse
January 2, 2020 5:40 am

The false religious belief in “Intelligent Design” is anti-science, so in this case, science and faith are not compatible.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 7:16 am

Speaking of being triggered.
So your beliefs are scientific, everyone else’s beliefs are anti-science.
There is no more evidence to support the belief that evolution was 100% random, than there is to support the belief that it was guided.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 8:57 am

There is no evidence whatsoever that the origin of life was guided. There is all the evidence in the world that it arose through natural rather than supernatural means.

As I told my students at a Baptist college, you can inject God into the process at whatever points you want, but that’s religion, not science, which seeks natural explanations of nature.

ID is obviously anti-scientific, since it asserts that some molecular processes cannot be explained by the scientific method, which is demonstrably false. Other workers have indeed, for example, explained the evolution of bacterial structrues whcih Behe claimed were “irreducibly complex”. He just threw up his hands over flagella because he didn’t want to find out how they evolved. What could be more anti-scientific than that?

It’s not up to me. It’s up to the scientific method.

No triggering, just the facts.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 9:18 am

PS: Evolution is not always “random”. Natural selection is the opposite of random. Mutations arise more or less randomly, but the causes of |random| mjutations are not random. Sooner or later, there will be mutations.

But evolution isn’t the same as abiogenesis, which must occur before biological evolution can take off.

The evidence in favor of totally natural abiogenesis, ie without supernatural intervention, includes the facts that molecules of H, C, N, O, P and S form spontaenously, that these simple molecules self-assemble into more complex compounds, the building blocks of biomolecules, and that these compounds (monomers) further form oligomers on their own. So then why should we assume that the next step, ie polymerization, requires divine assistance?

Polymerization can be catalyzed by abiotic enzymes and by natural mineral surfaces. Replication, ie the separation of copied RNA chains, has been shown to occur thanks merely to temperate changes.

Hence, no evidence of a Creator directly at work, but, as noted, all the evidence in the world of natural processes ongoing without supernatural magic.

Also, if your religious belief depends upon life being of supernatural origin, then what happens to faith when, as will occur sooner rather than later, reproducing, metabolizing, evolving protocells spontaneously form in a lab under early Earth conditions?

Tired Old Nurse
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 1:30 pm

‘…science and faith are not compatible.’ Nonsense. I am able to differentiate between my reliefs (the unprovable) and science. intelligent design requires no more faith than the belief in dark matter, at least until the existence of dark matter is proven.


John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 3:19 pm

Intelligent Design is not supported by any actual science. Thus it requires faith.

Dark matter is supported by evidence, thus requires no faith. That doesn’t mean that a better scientific explanation for the observations supporting dark matter won’t come along. But it’s a valid scientific hypothesis, subject to falsification, which ID is not.

Eugene Henson
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 10:08 pm

You said below that Behe “threw up his hands” when he ran into irreducibly complex biological systems. You mentioned the explanation of bacterial structures falsified his argument. Speaking of irreducibly complex structures/systems, how do you explain male and female reproduction? It is one thing for bacteria to reproduce by division, but it is exponentially more complex when you start talking about two separate biological entities with different “plumbing” coming together to reproduce.

How did that happen? Some organism through evolution managed to become male. Then at the same time and at the same place on the planet another organism of the same species managed to become female. So we have one female and one male and they somehow have to find each other before one of both of them dies. Then everything has to work for both the male and the female.

If you believe that happened – and it must have happened at some point in your evolutionary theory – then you have way more faith than any creationist I have ever met. This the the one thing that I never hear evolutionists talk about – death. Death is the great destroyer. How many males had to “evolve” and DIE before they found a compatible “evolved” female and visa-versa? Doesn’t pass the smell test.

You have a right to believe that all you want. Just don’t call it science.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2020 6:19 am

@ Eugene Henson
How did that happen? Some organism through evolution managed to become male. Then at the same time and at the same place on the planet another organism of the same species managed to become female. So we have one female and one male and they somehow have to find each other before one of both of them dies. Then everything has to work for both the male and the female.
If your example concerns mammals or else with low reprduction rate, we can talk about.
But in case of a low developed animal you certainely will have a much higher reproduction rate and f. e. hundrets or thousends of offspring, there will be a reason to talk about.
Or take slugs, most hermaphrodits, maybe the beginning of the male/female – separation.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2020 11:30 am

The origin of sex requires no faith whatsoever. It’s a mystery to me why it’s a mystery to you.

To start, prokaryotes have versions of sex, in which individual cells, even of different species, exchange genetic material in processes of horizontal gene transfer, such as conjugation, transduction and transformation.

Among us eukaryotes, sexual reproduction is an almost universal feature, although a few lineages have lost it. The fact that sexual reproduction has persisted for billions of years is itself evidence for the reality of natural selection.

Sex derived from recombination. Eukaryotes have nuclei, so reproducing isn’t as simple as in prokaryotes. It was a simple matter for members of the same species to evolve a difference in a single chromosome to determine whether they evolved into a male, producing sperm, or a female, producing eggs, or both, as is fairly common in plants (like fungi and animals, a group of multicellular eukaryotes).

The last unicellular, colonial ancestor of animals, choanoflagellates, look a lot like sperm. They also closely resemble choanocytes, the feeding cells of sponges.

Steven Mosher
Reply to  Greg
January 2, 2020 6:20 am

“So without presenting a single scientific point and a bunch of presumably sarcastic, rhetorical questions, you think you can claim this is not science.”

that there is funny. and reusable.

Reply to  Steven Mosher
January 2, 2020 8:01 am

Reusable? I hadn’t intended it to be but sadly I think you’re right.

recommended intonation:

Wlad from brz
Reply to  Steven Mosher
January 2, 2020 10:07 am

The origin of life: Fiat Lux

Reply to  Greg
January 2, 2020 10:35 am

What is necessary to create life? Even if you have a single-celled organization, it has to be able take in and use energy. To do this, it has to take in nutrients and expel waste products (and in some cases store solar energy chemically). The cell also has to procreate copies of itself. To do this, it must have precoded genetic material. The cell also has to maintain its structure. How did the availability of these raw materials allow creation of a structure of a cell from nothing? Saying that having the “building blocks” of life enables the self-creation of life, is like saying that having the rare metals used in PCs enables them to create themselves.
Even with all the knowledge available to scientists, they haven’t been able to create life from raw materials.

Charles Higley
Reply to  Greg
January 2, 2020 11:16 am

“carbon dioxide dissolves in water to create acid conditions that efficiently release phosphorus from rocks.”

As carbonic acid is a weak acid, it could not cause any real acidification of the seas. In this statement, they have left the building of real science. It is much more likely that the sulfur and even nitrogen oxides from volcanic activities that created the acid conditions, or more-acid conditions back then, as they do today.

Reply to  Greg
January 2, 2020 1:50 pm

So without presenting a single scientific point and a bunch of presumably sarcastic, rhetorical questions, you think you can claim this is not science.

You sound triggered by someone who doesn’t categorically reject intelligent design.

I was under the impression that traditional science needed a few things:
It had to be observable, repeatable and able to make predictions.

None of this is possible when discussing origins. Its pretty much a contest between assumptions and the admissibility of evidence.

Creationists have as their narrative. There was nothing, then six days there was everything, then a few thousand years later a world-wide catastrophic flood. All of the evidence is consistent with this narrative – yet since none of it can be reproduced or observable by someone other than The Creator, nor can anyone force God to “do it again” so we can watch, it doesn’t fulfill the requirements of science.

There are quite a number of contradictory evolutionary narratives, but no one is supposed to notice or dare mention it because they all require assumptions to steer around the lack of evidence or inconsistent/contradictory evidence.

For example, everyone has the Grand Canyon as evidence of something. The Bible says that billions of dead things were buried in rock layers rapidly laid down by water all over the earth. This was observed and attested to by eight people. When we look around the globe we see billions of dead things buried in rock layers rapidly laid down by water all over the earth.

Atheistic explanations don’t allow global floods on Earth (but do on Mars despite the lack of sufficient water or any eyewitness or records) so when asked to explain the rock layers and dead things, there are multiple fanciful stories that are not observable, repeatable or able to make predictions. Many require water to run uphill for billions of years, others require geological shifts, upheavals and the belief that when things die, that the carcass will not be scavenged, nor will the bones disintegrate until millions of years of dust descend upon them.

Creationists have a mechanism for bringing life from non-life and for why nearly all mutations are benign or destructive, OTOH, atheists require a belief that mutations are largely beneficial and create complex structures like eyes from successful mutations. Creationists can’t conjure up a God-breathed reproduction of life from non-life, and secularists can’t even invent a plausible way to get mud to live, breath and reproduce – let alone present observation, reproduction and predictions.

So neither side has science on their side. Origins is religion.

Reply to  AWG
January 2, 2020 9:54 pm

“So neither side has science on their side. Origins is religion.”

Altogether, a great comment. Origins cannot be proven scientifically as noted.

“Science” is just one of a few of our strategies for ascertaining “knowledge.”
Logic / Reason is another. Since all atheistic arguments are highly limited, as this OP notes – the problem of phosphorus – it is reasonable to at least consider a supernatural cause.

“Scientism” is a faith-based belief system that includes the tenet that there is no supernatural whatsoever in existence. To my eye, all of creation in its amazing improbability is good evidence of God. And, this is what God says is evidence of Him being the creator.

One of our strategies for ascertaining knowledge is “authority:” accept, to whatever degree of trust that you want, what an expert, and authority, says.

If God comes down and gives us the straight dope, that sounds pretty authoritative to me.

Yes, our “creation myth” is this: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Stunningly, it is only within the recent 100 years that cosmologists have arrived at the belief that time, space, and matter are inherently co-dependent. And, what do ya know: there they all are in the opening line. “In the beginning” = time, “heavens” = space, and “earth” = matter.

No one knows where the various parts of the OT came from, but we are pretty sure they got codified somewhere around 500BC to 600BC. So, 2500 years ago at least, we Bible believers got an accurate cosmology, and our atheist scientists finally arrived at this view within the recent 100 years.

I trust the source that got there first, by 2,500+ plus years.

“Boo-hoo-hoo: there are people who believe in God. Boo hoo hoo. My feelings are hurt.”

Every fiery post from a dogmatic Scientism True Believer spouting off about theists sounds exactly like this.

Rexx Shelton
Reply to  Ferd III
January 2, 2020 4:31 am

Now we are to believe that instead of life crawling out of the seas to propagate throughout the world, they came from these very rare carbonate-rich lakes is a hot dry environment instead of the swampy wet environment they have been preaching my whole life of 78 years.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Rexx Shelton
January 2, 2020 4:54 am

Let me tell you if I found myself in a phosphorus rich pond I’d damn well crawl out of it too!

John Tillman
Reply to  Rexx Shelton
January 2, 2020 5:00 am

Swampy wet environment has not been preached for 78 years. For about 150 years, there have been competing environmental scenarios for the incubator of life, to include outer space, with new ones added in the past 50 years or so.

It’s science, not faith, so is seldom if ever settled. Even after a protocell forms spontaneously in a lab, we won’t know for sure if that’s how life on Earth originated.

Louis Hunt
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 11:47 pm

John, you sure seem to have a lot of “faith” in the idea that a protocell will eventually form spontaneously in a lab. Science has yet to see such an event. But you hope for it to happen based on the little evidence available that such an event is possible. That is the very definition of faith: “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

John Tillman
Reply to  Louis Hunt
January 3, 2020 11:34 am

I expect it because I’m familiar with the advances being made.

Those working in the field predict success at time frames from Szostak’s probably optimistic five years, to other guesses ranging as high as 20 years. But no one today researching the origin of life is as pessimistic as pioneer Orgel toward the end of his life in 2004. Progress in this century has been stupendous, and in some ways, surprising.

John Tillman
Reply to  Louis Hunt
January 3, 2020 4:32 pm

Nothing is more common in the history of science and technology than predictions of impossibilities sooner or later shown not only possible, but inevitable or necessary.

Among the many famous examples is Lord Kelvin’s declaration in 1895 that heavier than air flight was impossible. Only eight years later he was shown wrong.

Another reason why I consider it reasonable to expect life in the lab from scratch before mid-century.

John Tillman
Reply to  Louis Hunt
January 3, 2020 4:40 pm

I’ll go out on not much of a limb and predict life in the lab from scratch by sometime between the 75th and 100th anniversaries of the discovery of the structure of DNA, ie 2028 to 2053. That’s way better than CACA doomsday 2100.

Don K
Reply to  Rexx Shelton
January 2, 2020 5:18 am

Actually, we have next to no knowledge of the environment of the early Earth. We have a few tiny zircons that can be dated to about 4.4 billion BP. And a very few highly altered metamorphic rock formation that date from several hundred million years later. We don’t know when life arose/arrived, or what the planet looked like when life arose/arrived, or even how much heat the early sun delivered as our very limited physical evidence seems to indicate a warmer planet early on than stellar evolution theory supports. We don’t know what the atmosphere looked like. If there was an atmosphere. Which there likely was. we don’t know what the oceans/lakes/rivers/ponds (if any) looked like. Or when they formed. Or how they evolved. We do know, or think we know, that life was here about 3.465 billion years ago — assuming that the objects in the Apex Chert are not pseudofossils of some sort and that they aren’t somehow misdated.

John Tillman
Reply to  Don K
January 2, 2020 5:46 am

Actually, we know quite a lot more than that, and can make testable hypotheses about what we don’t know. Our understanding of Hadean and Archaean Earth has progressed quite a lot since the Miller experiment.

The latest credible evidence suggests that life arose between 4.2 and 3.8 Ga.

Don K
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 2:07 pm

“Actually, we know quite a lot more than that, and can make testable hypotheses about what we don’t know. ”

I disagree with both statements, but not especially with the thought behind them. “We” (well, not me, but “they” and maybe “You”) seem to be making good progress on the extraordinarily difficult task of figuring out how life could evolve on a somewhat “earthlike” planet. A lot of progress has been made, but “they” (picking a pronoun at random) have a huge distance to go. Especially what seems to me to be the BIG problem — which is how a bunch of genetic material can both encode the instructions to sustain itself and to replicate itself and to wrap itself in a protective wall and encode the instructions to reproduce that wall as well. All by chance.

Once you have one single self reproducing cell and an environment with the material to support its metabolism and reproduction, it seems to me that everything else follows pretty simply.

Fortunately probably, there is next to no data on the early Earth other than mass, a very rough guess about what chemical elements might be available and a guess at rotation period. Why fortunate? Because the job of hypothesizing how life originated is difficult enough without being constrained by “facts” that may or may not actually be true.

I’m perfectly comfortable with their working with a hypothetical planet somehow warm enough to support liquid water and a diverse collection of environments probably producing over time some amounts of just about every stable organic compound one can imagine. I can’t begin to guess how they’ll manage to assemble that into a coherent story of the evolution of life.

But I think they likely will. Someday.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 3:12 pm

The formation is not “random”. It arises naturally from the chemistry of our universe.

In the environment in which life originated, if on Earth and not in space, spontaneously assembled amino acids, nucleobases, sugars, phosphate groups and fatty acids all existed happily together in aqueous solution with iron and sulfur. We can have a high degree of confidence that such conditions obtained on the Late Hadean Earth.

We, ie those studying the question, can also be sure that the fatty acids formed vesicles or protomembranes, which contained all or some of the above-mentioned organic chemical building blocks of life. At the same time, chemical processes ancestral to biochemical metabolism were taking place. None of this is the least bit controversial, and has been observed.

Many routes fom this situation to replicating nucleic acids coding for polypeptides exist. At least one of them will be found to work without experimenter intervention. Whether that or those pathways are the same as occured four billion years ago or not doesn’t really matter. The principle will be demonstrated.

David Nowack
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2020 4:47 pm

John Tillman wrote, “In the environment in which life originated, if on Earth and not in space, spontaneously assembled amino acids, nucleobases, sugars, phosphate groups and fatty acids all existed happily together in aqueous solution with iron and sulfur.” The prebiotic chemistry problem that John does not mention in the quote above is the reality that amino acids, nucleobases, sugars and fatty acids are each synthesized under completely different chemical conditions. There is not nor will there ever be a one-pot synthesis (described as ‘all existed happily together in aqueous solution’) of amino acids and sugars and nucleobases and fatty acids. The synthetic behavior/requirements of these classes of compounds were established at the “big bang” or soon after. Billions of years would not negate the reality of the completely different chemical conditions required for the synthesis of each of the classes.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Ferd III
January 2, 2020 4:52 am

A probability cannot be less than zero.
Neither can the probability of a unique event be calculated – it has no meaning.
Tale your ‘intelligent design’ back to the church of Believers

Reply to  Ferd III
January 2, 2020 4:53 am

It is pretty simple actually. First start with the premise that life arose without any interference or direction. Second try to scrounge around for some possible mechanism that would generate a first life form. The most basic cell requires both DNA and DNA Transcriptase, and which came first the DNA instructions for making transcriptase, or the transcriptase which would be necessary for reading the instructions? Dunno, but it must have happened because here we are.
You see, once you reject any non-physical direction of the universe on purely philosophical grounds you get to ignore any and all data that might suggest such a conclusion. Then you get to propose that phosphorous lakes combined with amino acids dropped from a meteorite to form early RNA based life forms that later swapped to DNA (with no feasible process for the swap). All you have to do is reject any alternative on purely philosophical grounds with hand waving and derision (See all the other responses to you).
Best of luck convincing anyone who is committed to philosophical naturalism.

John Tillman
Reply to  chadb
January 2, 2020 5:26 am

RNA to DNA is easy. Ribose as central sugar to deoxyribose (subtract one O atom), and nucleobase uracil to its methylated form, thymine. The other three nucleobases and the phosphate group are the same.

But in fact both nucleic acids might have developed together, with elementary forms of their enzymes and coenzymes.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 8:15 am

Sorry, you misunderstood. How would RNA based information storage be replaced with DNA. As far as I know there aren’t any mixed RNA/DNA molecules, so you have to posit that RNA all of a sudden swapped to DNA. I understand both could exist in a soup, but that is the easy part. Storing functional information in a format that can be reliably copied and then switching from one sugar base (R) to another (D) are the questions I’m posing.

John Tillman
Reply to  chadb
January 2, 2020 8:36 am

Mixed RNA and DNA most certainly can and do exist. And both contain at points nucleobases other than the canonical five.

For that matter, we can make all kinds of nucleic acids in the lab which don’t occur in nature, and combine them with RNA and DNA.

John Tillman
Reply to  chadb
January 2, 2020 8:47 am

There are also hybrid helices, which should help answer your questions.

Given the enormous variety of nucleic acid polymerases extant now, their evolution from a dual-capable DNA/RNA complex seems only natural.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 11:06 am

What if the first ever “living” being was like a virus ?

Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 2, 2020 11:49 am

That would be sad for the virus since it can’t reproduce on its own.

John Tillman
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 2, 2020 12:21 pm

That’s a possibility, more likely a retrovirus.

Reply to  Ferd III
January 2, 2020 5:37 am

There are lots of theories about how life came into being. link The question is, do structures replicate? Yes, some structures replicate, crystals for instance. I see no reason why complex chemical reactions and replication could not fall over the border and become some kind of life form. Emergence is a fundamental property of nature.

M Courtney
Reply to  commieBob
January 2, 2020 7:23 am

Clay replicates. Clay makes cell-like structures.
These phosphate rich waters look like a good source of energy to fill those structures.
But that’s just science.

From a theological viewpoint, intelligent design poses a great challenge to the existence of a loving God. Such a loving God would want us to know Him but would not want us to be forced to accept Him.
That is not controversial theology. It means we are justified by Faith not our working out of Proof.
If you find proof of God you are forced to accept his authority. That coercion is not loving.

So the ‘something from nothing’ Big Bang and ‘organisation of life from initially unselected natural processes’ can be acceptable as we can’t see what happened. Eventually we will find mechanisms and won’t have to concede that there must be an external actor. Until then we can withhold our empirical judgements. And so are free to choose to trust in God – it is not forced.

But if we could prove Intelligent Design then God doesn’t act like the a Saviour.

John Tillman
Reply to  M Courtney
January 2, 2020 8:32 am


ID is both false theology and deeply anti-scientific.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 10:15 am

I know that I’ve responded to something similar below, but what is it about ID that makes it deeply anti-scientific? I suppose that the answer will be something along the lines of “anything that posits any entity beyond the natural universe is non-scientific.” However, as far as I understand it science is the study of how things operate in the absence of external manipulation. It is not anti-scientific to claim that external manipulation is possible, or even to point at specific events and claim that the event in question is beyond the scope of natural resources to explain.
It seems that anti science would be more along the lines of “I don’t care what the evidence says, …” However, any reading of ID proponents should recognize this is not their attitude. ID proponents clearly care quite deeply about the evidence, even if they come to drastically different conclusions. I am really left scratching my head wondering what is anti-science about a data driven study that says “as far as we are able to discern the probabilistic resources of the universe rule out xyz. While such a possibility is theoretically possible it is so unlikely as to render its outcome implausible.”
It seems rather that this would be an excellent way to define the boundaries of science. That is, if you observe in a sealed room a tiger pop into existence, recite the Magna Carta, and then pop completely out of existence it should be possible to say that such an event is beyond the scope of natural processes. As far as I can tell that is the exact undertaking of ID (defining the explanatory power of natural processes, and investigating whether any events are beyond that boundary).
It almost seems like the objection is not to the process but the outcome. If the ID approach found that the origin of life was well within the bounds of natural processes I suspect that you would applaud both the process and the result.
So circling back, what is it about ID that you find anti-scientific? Is it the process or the outcomes? Is it because you don’t like what they are doing or because you have rejected one possible conclusion based on metaphysical assumptions?

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 3:27 pm

As I’ve explained elsewhere, ID is anti-scientific because it rejects the scientific method. It relies on punting to claim a structure is “irreducibly complex” instead of trying, as a scientists would do, to find a natural explanation for the structure.

The Pope if ID, Behe, himself could have discovered the pathways to bacterial flagella had his religious belief not stopped him from trying. Other, younger workers without his religious bias, have since managed to elucidate the evolution of bacterial flagella.

Reply to  Ferd III
January 2, 2020 8:42 am

I was so enjoying a story without a single obeisance to the global warming funding god. Then kaboom, another kind of faith based downer.

Doc Chuck
Reply to  Ferd III
January 2, 2020 12:33 pm

C’mon Ferd, get with the program. What published ruling narrative is going to devolve from funding by a foundation’s ‘Collaboration on the Origins of Life’? Recall a certain parallel sustained narrative from the IPCC when their brief for continuing supported existence is the commanding role of CO2 in changing the climate.

Lucre is a practically irresistible fuel for such engines and few decline the gravy of the train ride (often while deflecting attention away from themselves by finger-pointing at others who must surely also be in the pay of some special interest). Most will thus flee any accountability to a truthful humility that would deny themselves the highest glory. After all, what telling motives concerning natural human behavior are disclosed by the likes of Eve’s readily loosed aspirations (with Adam’s complicity), Genghis Khan’s personal territorial ambitions, and that free pass issued to the conduct of self-identified elites by a robust social Darwinism?

michael hart
Reply to  Ferd III
January 2, 2020 2:14 pm

It’s interesting to speculate though, Ferd III.

I speculate that the ribo-phosphate chain actually evolved first, before the information-bearing nucleo-bases were added. They form the repeated, simpler, exterior portion of the DNA/RNA molecule. Low-energy chemical reactions leading to condensation of shorter molecules to form longer chains would have been aided by temporary molecular-recognition events on the surfaces of phosphate-bearing rocks.

All totally unprovable in the sense of what actually happened, but plausible, nevertheless.

Eric Anderson
Reply to  Ferd III
January 3, 2020 7:29 pm

Ah, yes. Another in the long line of “we’re making progress toward solving alchemy” level of papers that regularly get published about abiogenesis. No, seriously. This time we really do have a good idea. Just give us one more chance. And keep the funding flowing…

It is highly ironic–sad, really–that so many people who are willing to exercise healthy skepticism and critical thought when it comes to global warming just drink up the Kool-Aid when it comes to abiogenesis.

If we are willing to exercise a little intellectual courage–and treat abiogenesis as a hypothesis, rather than an assumption, we quickly realize the whole idea is nonsense. Indeed, in all of science it would be difficult to come up with something more laughable than the idea that a bunch of chemicals bumped into each other and reacted to eventually form a living organism. And, no, it doesn’t help one iota to apply lots of impressive-sounding “sciencey” terms to trick ourselves and others into thinking that there is substance here: terms like “chemical evolution,” or “pre-biotic evolution,” or “selective pressure,” or “reproductive success,” or “fitness.” None of the fancy terminology changes the underlying, preposterous claim.

I trust there are many individuals in these pages who simply haven’t had the opportunity to look into the abiogenesis story in detail. When they do, they will note many striking similarities with the consensus view on “climate science,” only more extreme in a number of ways.

For those who are open to considering the evidence and objectively examining the science (as opposed to just accepting made up stories from the “consensus science” view), an intellectual journey into an analysis of abiogenesis will be a fascinating, and very eye-opening, venture.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Ferd III
January 4, 2020 3:42 pm

Lakes are a silly bet. The best bet is the ubiquitous oceans where the main reservoir of dissolved chemistry is. Why, otherwise, was there so much complex life in the oceans (fossil record for at least a billion years) and essentially no sign of land based life until a fungus appeared in the Ordovician ~450MYA.

I’m sorry but you have to go to the most logically obvious source for early life or you need a compelling theory of why it WASN’T the oceans.

Krishna Gans
January 2, 2020 2:35 am

I am and stay friend of Golds deep hot biosphere.

Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 2, 2020 3:58 am

Gold has been derided by geologists, such as Harmon Craig and John Hunt,[38] who are strongly opposed to Gold’s abiogenic petroleum theory. Others had even started campaigns to prevent Gold from publishing his findings.[38] link

That is a disturbing phenomenon in science. Rather than disproving a theory or research finding, some scientists think it is appropriate to prevent the work from being published. We all know about climategate. There is the same thing with dietary fat.

What went wrong with Lysenko and dietary fat was that in each case a monopoly was established. Lysenko’s opponents were imprisoned or killed. Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise shows in devastating detail how opponents of Ancel Keys’s dietary fat hypothesis were starved of grants and frozen out of the debate by an intolerant consensus backed by vested interests, echoed and amplified by a docile press. Matt Ridley

I would posit that such suppression happens all the time and only sometimes does the information become public.

… for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias. Ioannidis

The sad fact is that suppression is not only tolerated, but is actively encouraged by the ‘powers that be’. Sometimes the suppression rises to the level of outright censorship and worse.

Dreger wrote that some activists had turned their horror at Bailey’s findings into a very public vendetta against him and his family, including thinly veiled allegations that he sexually abused his children. link

If an inconvenient research finding mucks up some folks’ narratives, they will stop at nothing to suppress it. Lysenko-ism is alive and living in America.

Reply to  commieBob
January 2, 2020 7:42 am

Your first quote doesn’t concern Golds origin of life thesis, but the origin of abiotic oil thesis. But in general, you are right.

Reply to  commieBob
January 2, 2020 9:03 am

As soon as committees take over disseminating research dollars they make judgements about which research is worthy and then have vested interests in promoting what they have deemed worthy and denigrating that which is not. It should be much harder to become a scientist but those who make it should not have their research directed by bureaucrats and/or committees.

January 2, 2020 3:19 am

“The carbon dioxide rich air in the early earth some 4 billion years ago…..”
The earth is some 4.54 billion years old.
When the earth “settled down” some 4.4 billion years ago, how much carbon dioxide was there in the earth’s atmosphere?
To quote Allègre and Schneider from “ The Origin of the Earth” in Scientific American in 2005, this is pivotal to understanding much of the climate issue.
The two authors pose that exact question without answering it but discussing the 2 conflicting theories about how life evolved from there.
I have a recollection that Pat Michaels has nominated 200,000 ppm. from the Archean period ( 4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago), but I can’t find the reference.
My recollection may be faulty.
What is the answer and has CO2 in the atmosphere been on a steady but occasionally interrupted decline since then to today’s 413 ppm?

Krishna Gans
Reply to  Herbert
January 2, 2020 3:36 am

As photosythesis started with first plant life, a strong prozess of oxydation changed the CO2 concentration dramatically.

John Tillman
Reply to  Herbert
January 2, 2020 4:46 am

The Late Hadean and Early Archaean atmosphere might been 30% CO2, with also large H2O and SO2 content, plus possibly some CO and NOx as well as N2, thanks to volcanic gas emissions. Miller assumed a strongly reducing atmosphere, with high ammonia and methane content. But the less reducing atmosphere also yields amino acids.

We know now that the building blocks of life self-assemble not only on Earth but in space. Meteorites contain not only amino acids but fatty acids, sugars, nucleobases and phosphate groups, the components of proteins and nucleic acids.

Biochemists from Oró to Sutherland have discovered how nucleobases form spontaneously on Earth. Some, like adenine, the most important, are easy, but others harder.

Origin of life research was held back by concentrating on the chemistry of individual components rather than seeing the big picture. It now appears that peptides (short amino acid chains) bilayer lipid vesicles, phosphates and nucleosides (nucleobases attached to sugars) developed together, en route to cellular life with proteins (long amino acid chains), RNA and DNA inside semi-porous membranes.

In a variety of environments, RNA oligomers (short chains) self-assemble from nucleotides (nucleosides attached to phosphate groups). Polymerization (formation of long chains) without protein enzymes as catalysts has also been demonstrated under various conditions, typically involving iron and sulfur, which elements remain vital to metabolism.

RNA is also able to function as an enzyme itself, as well as a library of genetic information. DNA, lacking an oxygen molecule in its ribose sugar, forms its characteristic double helix, so is more stable as a library, but unable to fold into The complex shapes needed by enzymes.

Sutherland recently discovered that it’s easier for some amino acids to form in peptides directly from common simple precursor compounds such as HCN than to arise as separate monomers. Two Young female researchers at the UW just showed that peptides keep vesicles from coming apart in seawater. And of course the Hadean ocean contained lots of iron and sulfur, there being little free oxygen.

There’s a lot going on in origin of life research now.

Rexx Shelton
January 2, 2020 4:32 am

Now we are to believe that instead of life crawling out of the seas to propagate throughout the world, they came from these very rare carbonate-rich lakes is a hot dry environment instead of the swampy wet environment they have been preaching my whole life of 78 years.

John Tillman
Reply to  Rexx Shelton
January 2, 2020 5:39 am

Wet of course is required for life as we know it, but one scenario for its origin is in volcanic ponds on land with moist and dry cycles, which concentrate nucleic and amino acids, promoting polymerization.

Shawn Marshall
January 2, 2020 4:58 am

Dr James Tour, Rice University, has many You Tube vids declaiming the futilities of Origin of Life research. He is a world renowned scientist. He is very skeptical of those who make broad conclusions from a dearth of data – including that materialist demigod Charles Darwin – heroic figure to those who would be as gods. It’s called scientism. Just like AGW.

John Tillman
Reply to  Shawn Marshall
January 2, 2020 5:37 am

Tour isn’t a biologist or even biochemist. To learn about progress in origin of life research, I’d suggest that you watch Youtube videos by those actually working in the field, like Harvard’ Nobel laureate Szostak.

David Nowack
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2020 5:07 pm

John Tillman wrote, “Tour isn’t a biologist or even a biochemist.” Correct, he is not. Thus, he is perfectly positioned to evaluate the prebiotic chemical conditions and reactions necessary to exist prior to life (or ‘bio’). Both bio-logists and bio-chemists begin their work after life exists not before. Tour highlights the fundamental chemical-reaction realities that work against the synthesis of the molecules that are required for existence of a living cell. And they are fundamental realities. Billions of years will not change realities that work against the synthesis of those molecules.

January 2, 2020 4:59 am

Regardless of your views here are two statements that are unsettling, at least to me:

Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not.
Either there was some driving force behind the creation of life, or the theory of spontaneous creation is correct.

Consider the billions of years during which the Earth was inhospitable to the existence of life, much less to its creation, and the ridiculously low probability of all the right elements (and none of the deadly ones) coming together AT THE SAME MOMENT that the proper environment with just the right energy levels occurred. And the time windows for random chemical reactions to form life could not have been very long. There may have been numerous such periods, but there aren’t going to be many random chemical reactions once the ponds are frozen solid after a climate change.

I am very bothered by the fact that we have been unable to create life in the laboratory, despite running multiple, concurrent experiments that provide (our theory of) the ideal environment for creation of life. What took nature billions of years to achieve, a suitable atmosphere for example, can be reproduced in the lab in an afternoon. The longer it takes us to create life, the less life we can expect to find in the universe.

We are missing something. Not necessarily intellectually based, but something. Until we understand the issue much better, all the estimates of life in the universe is just sheer guessing. You can start with tens of trillions of stars, eliminate a few trillion, theorize a few trillion planets, eliminate most of them, arrive at a few billion suitable planets, estimate how many of them have enough of the right elements, estimate the probability of a suitable environment and those elements coming together in a soup, concurrently, but then what?

We seem to be disproving intellectual (our intellect, anyway) design and spontaneous creation with the same experiments.

John Tillman
Reply to  jtom
January 2, 2020 5:34 am

Earth was not devoid of life for billions of years. It arose here almost as soon as the planet was cool enough for it.

Life is probably inevitable under the right conditions, although two famous French-speaking biologists, Monod and de Duve, disagreed about that.

How many life-bearing bodies exist in the universe depends upon under what conditions life can and does arise. If it requires wet and dry cycles in volcanic ponds on land, then it might be less common than if it develops in deep sea vents. Or not. It may emerge in a variety of environments, including on asteroids and in space dust.

The problem so far with life in the lab has been that there are too many possible scenarios for all of them to be adequately funded and pursued. But there have been major discoveries. Machines to make more and hypothesis-testing experiments across the globe are now working on the remaining problems.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 7:29 am

True, life appeared on Earth in the first billion years of its existence, I should have not been so Sagan-esque. However, until we can create life, everything you say after your first sentence with respect to its creation is currently pure speculation. Every year that goes by without success further shows how difficult it is for life to spontaneously create.

If an experiment succeeds tomorrow, and is replicable, then all my concerns go away. Until that happens, I suspect it is wiser to leave the door to all other possibilities ajar.
The fascinating research on quantum entanglement shows there is much in the universe we can not comprehend. Life may also hold a strange, incomprehensible attribute.

John Tillman
Reply to  jtom
January 2, 2020 9:01 am

There is no reason to imagine that life is strange in some way. It’s just chemistry.

That we haven’t yet produced life in a lab doesn’t mean that it’s not likely or indeed inevitable. It was a very long time after Copernicus before Earth’s orbit around the Sun could be directly observed.

We knew that aspirin worked for about a century before we learned how.

OoL research is no different from any other area of science. We’re making steady progress, despite underfunding.

John Tillman
Reply to  jtom
January 2, 2020 10:45 am

PS: Speculation is the first step in the scientific method, ie forming an hypothesis. Next is make a prediction based upon that guess, then to conduct an experiment testing the hypothesis, capable of being shown false.

That’s how OoL research proceeds.

Among hypotheses being tested, such as in Harvard’s Szostak lab, is that before modern prokaryotes were simpler organisms, ie protocells, consisting of a lipid bilayer membrane and a strand of RNA encoding a single gene for a short protein. The membrane may or may not have enclosed metabolism, since the environment provided free energy and nutrients in the form of complex organic compounds spontaneously produced naturally.

The protein might have been multi-functional, used for instance to reinforce the membrane and to catalyze RNA replication. From there, it was off to the evolutionary races.

An initial single protein with tens of amino acids could increase by an order of magnitude in number, size, complexity and function under natural selection at every billion years or so, if not sooner. Along the way, modern prokaryotes evolved, with organelles such as the ribosome, a mixture of proteins and RNA in which tRNA builds proteins.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 10:05 am

But it has become obvious that the EPA ban on the use of phosphates was to stop the emergence of a higher form of life from phosphate discharge areas

January 2, 2020 5:38 am

One might surmise we’ve advanced to the threshold of Aristotle by refining what the compounds are that make up the form (of life). It’s still a long, long way from how the compounds become the form (the things having souls or life).
Moving from classical philosophy, modern science will needs to develop (and prove?) how dozens and dozens of molecules are assembled with signaling mechanisms coalesce into a self-copying organism.
For example, cement is a combination of calcium, silicon, aluminum, iron ore, fly ash, small amounts of gypsum, limestone, and clay which is carefully mixed with various liquids to create the final product. It’s the process that defines the creation, perhaps more so than the compounds.

It is escapism and unscientific (and perhaps others), imho, to wave the “billions and billions of years” of evolution magic wand to explain “how life emerged”. Science, today, simply can not prove how the compounds are processed into Aristotle’s “form”. And it’s another fools errand to attempt to use science to disprove religious metaphysics meaning whenever science proves something, metaphysics can, and often does, merely point out that it was all set in motion as Aquinas pointed. out. That is the nature of metaphysics.

John Tillman
Reply to  cedarhill
January 2, 2020 6:27 am

Biochemistry is just a branch of organic chemistry. No metaphysics required.

Here is what has been observed so far:

The building blocks of proteins, nucleic acids and membranes self-assemble naturally under a variety of conditions, in space, on Earth and other bodies. This applies not just to simpler precursor compounds such as HCN, but to amino and fatty acids, nucleotides, sugars and phospahte groups, the constiuents of proteins, membranes and nucleic acids, the large molecules of life.

Issues remaining are polymerizing these monomers without biological enzymes and separating RNA strands once replicated.

These chemical engineering problems under plausible prebiotic conditions are well in hand, being attacked from different angles. Both “metabolism first” and “replication first” hypotheses are being tested. Among the latter, in which several scenarios have been proposed, two promising avenues are alkaline “white smoker” undersea vents and volcanic ponds on land with wet and dry cycles. Both are supported by evidence but each has issues.

Every year solutions have been found to outstanding problems, via the time-tested scientific method.

Reply to  cedarhill
January 2, 2020 12:12 pm

It took Fermi’s team several years, with highly competent assistants, and maths to work out the control mechanisms, to achieve the first continuously working, and stable, nuclear fission reactor based on uranium.
Nature did it 2 billion (?) years ago in what is now the Congo region without, so far as we know, any supernatural helping hand.

John Tillman
Reply to  mikewaite
January 3, 2020 4:58 pm

One school of thought attributes the origin of life to natural nuclear reactors, which would have been common on early Earth.

January 2, 2020 6:31 am

In reply to all of the above and understanding that few will see this anyway, I offer up this thought:

Water is the universal solvent

And provide two links in support of the logical conclusions that result from that statement.

Note that science presented there is secular even though the website is “Christian”. (A website is inanimate, but the webmaster is a Christian.)

John Tillman
Reply to  Mitchell
January 2, 2020 6:49 am

Utter nonsense.

Life and its building blocks require water or a comparable solvent in order to develop, evolve and exist. Protomembrane fatty acid vesicles form naturally in water, thanks to lipids with water-loving and water-hating ends. Amino acids, nucleobases and phosphate groups likewise self-assemble in water.

These are obsxervations of nature, not the ignoramus ravings of lunatic garbage-spewers, as in your idiotic links.

BTW, liquid water does exist on Mars, inside its ice crystals and even briefly on the surface.

Pockets of water within ice are one of the laboratories in which complex organic compounds form. The lower reaction rate due to cold is compensated for by the concentrations of organics thanks to eutectic expulsion from the ice crystals.

old white guy
January 2, 2020 6:47 am

There is no known way that the first living cell could have formed naturally. The first living cell would have needed some mechanism for metabolism. Growth and reproduction require cell division. There is no known natural process by which cell division could occur by chance. I could go on but it would be pointless.

John Tillman
Reply to  old white guy
January 2, 2020 7:33 am

The opposite is the case. There so many possible ways for cells to arise that scientists can’t investigate all of them.

How cell membranes arise then divide and evolve is already known, having been observed in the lab.

Whether metabolism or replication came first is presently a contentious issue. Most likely they developed together.

The origin of life via chemical evolution is also the opposite of impossible. It’s probably inevitable, thanks to the Second Law of Thermodynamics and a universe containing elements beyond hydrogen.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 9:51 am

“There so many possible ways for cells to arise that scientists can’t investigate all of them.”
If that is the case please point me to a dozen or so articles that have demonstrated how functional cells have arisen. I’m an experimentalist at heart, so I would prefer not papers that discuss not possibilities, but papers that say “under these conditions we went from biological precursors to fully functional and reproducing cells.” Biologic precursors are as close to functioning cells as a pile of rocks is to the Colosseum. Even if you have a process described to get a pile of rocks you still don’t have anything like the Colosseum.

You strike me as someone with an advanced degree in biochemistry. I wonder how it would have looked if your advisor had asked you to build a minimally viable cell and you presented him with a pathway to biological precursors and then said “there are so many pathways to a viable cell from here that I can’t study them all.” Even if I swallow all the discussions on biological precursors and the RNA world I’m still left with a statistical improbability that I consider insurmountable.
In fact, even if we got to a reproducible enzyme I would still consider that a far cry from the multi-step processes that dominate metabolism, steps with negative feedback loops built in to avoid runaway reactions. Simply getting a few ATP out of glucose (one of the simplest things a cell does) is a multi-step process where the products control the reaction rate. I simply can’t bring myself to believe that the grandeur of what happens inside the cell is due to random chance.

Interestingly enough it was PhD biochem (in a top ranking biochemistry program in the world) that brought me to this way of thinking. I fully accepted the natural process explanation before the class, but rejected it after. I guarantee you that my professors did not push any theological reasoning on the class, and would probably be mortified by my takeaway.

Steve Reddish
Reply to  chadb
January 2, 2020 10:30 pm

” Biologic precursors are as close to functioning cells as a pile of rocks is to the Colosseum. Even if you have a process described to get a pile of rocks you still don’t have anything like the Colosseum.”
Precisely the sticking point I see. Naturally forming amino acids are very inferior to even simple proteins of life.


John Tillman
Reply to  Steve Reddish
January 3, 2020 4:18 pm

Not so at all.

The combination in a concentrated aqueous solution of amino acids, nucleobases, sugars, phosphate groups and lipids, with an energy source and chemical gradients, is more akin to the assemblage of concrete, forms, workers and lifting devices in Flavian Rome.

Again, I repeat, we know that amino acids spontaneously form peptides, that nucleobases, sugars and phospahte groups self-assemble into nucleotides and then oligomerize into short RNA chains, and of course fatty acids naturally make soap bubbles, ie bilayer lipid vesicles.

Prebiotic natural organic metabolism akin to the Krebs cycle has been observed and created in the lab. This paper suggests one way in which phosphorus, ie ATP, could have been injected into that cycle.

The prebiotic world was a seething kettle of complex organic compounds pregnant with life. Under those conditions, it was inevitable, thanks to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

old white guy
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2020 5:05 am

so far john that has not happened. it has never been done in a lab.

January 2, 2020 6:47 am

I like it. It works for me.

John Tillman
January 2, 2020 6:55 am

While this paper is a valuable contrubution, the phosphate problem has other solutions as well.

Advocates of “metabolism first” hypotheses of abiogenesis point to naturally occurring chemical processes, akin to the Krebs (citric acid) Cycle, which could have powered developing proto-life before the “Phosphate World” in which we now exist, ie without P-containing nucleic acids and the present energy currency molecule ATP (the nucleobase adenine with three phospate groups attached).

January 2, 2020 7:09 am

The driving force is ordinary thermodynamics. Energy is required to create local order at the expense of greater disorder in the universe. Manfred Eigen conducted experiments to show chemical evolution of RNA occurred in a simple system. Why? Because new combinations of molecules formed in the system began to interact and more efficiently reproduce themselves, outpacing the prior dominant population of molecules. The concept of hypercycles can be extended from molecular interactions to the entire web of life on Earth. The idea is when cooperation is more efficient, it provides an advantage for the participants. They outpace the competition. This is Darwinism from molecule to ecosystem. That is your driving force for complexity and order.
Eigen’s experiments were supported by an analysis of the genetic code, the conversion of information contained in nucleic acids to chains of amino acids in proteins. The basic chemical type of the amino acid is well defined by the central base of the codon triplet. There are hydrophilic and hydrophobic amino acids that typically segregate from surface to core. Early tRNA may not have had much fidelity, and amino acids may not have been reliably synthesized, but a rough cut enzyme might be made in the proper shape to catalyze reactions if only the basic chemistry of the amino acids in the protein chain are defined. Perhaps only a subset will be fully functional. The organisms capable of making more highly active or more specific enzymes eventually would have an opportunity for a selective advantage at which time the codons would have needed to become more specific in terms of amino acids they encode. That seems to be what the genetic code structure is telling us.
Furthermore, our most basic biochemistry is catalyzed by RNA based enzymes with protein add-ons. The interesting thing to see is the cores of these catalytic systems are conserved spatially, while RNA loops and other elaborations are added as organisms progress further out on the evolutionary tree of life. Thus it is possible to view molecular evolution occurring as more complex and advanced organisms developed over time.
No miracles needed. But wow, Earth is a cool place. Hard to believe there are no other places like it. But I’m afraid conditions here that led to us are very rare in the Universe. We should not be so negative and waste the opportunity Earth has to send seeds of life to other worlds, eventually in other solar systems. We are important and represent the next phase in evolution akin to life leaving the ocean to begin living on land.

John Tillman
Reply to  Hoser
January 2, 2020 7:38 am

Agreed, but might I suggest paragraphs?

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 11:32 am

Yeah. Where you can actually see them.

Reply to  Hoser
January 2, 2020 11:18 am

Hey Hoser,

I like your paragraph structure.It is more efficient than the standard.Don’t change a thing;Don’t listen to ’em.

Reply to  DonM
January 2, 2020 11:49 am

Nyuk, nyuk. Oh, a wiseguy, eh? – Curly Howard

Berényi Péter
January 2, 2020 7:36 am

Probability of spontaneous appearance of life from non-living things (a.k.a. abiogenesis) can be extremely low, while being consistent with early life on Earth. For we do not know the a priori probability of abiogenesis, only its conditional probability (provided we do discuss this question), which is exactly 1.

Since plenty of lab experiments demonstrated, that abiogenesis needs a reducing environment (with lots of hydrogen) and even early atmosphere was not like that for long, the conditional expected value of the time needed for abiogenesis, provided it happened, is necessary low.

Forming of biomolecules is some hundred times more probable in a methane / ammonia / hydrogen environment than in a carbon dioxide / nitrogen one. But it was only a brief phase of the ever evolving terrestrial environment, because hydrogen, not bound in water and lacking an effective water trap, quickly escapes to space.

Therefore the a priori probability of abiogenesis can be very low: life either appeared early or not at all. And I mean low, like one in a gazillion. So, it may appear intelligently designed (while it is not), but it is absolutely inaccessible to standard scientific methods.

That much about creatioinism.

John Tillman
Reply to  Berényi Péter
January 2, 2020 8:05 am

Experiments show that a highly reducing atmosphere (CH4, NH3) is not required. A slightly reducing atmosphere (CO2, H2O) is not less conducive to abiogenesis, but more.

David Nowack
Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 11:28 am

“The Cell and the Nature of Life. I believe that understanding the cell is ultimately a question of chemistry and that chemists are, in principle, best qualified to solve it. The cell is a bag—a bag containing smaller bags and helpfully organizing spaghetti—filled with a Jell-O of reacting chemicals and somehow able to replicate itself. Yes, it is important to know the individual reactions that make the cell what it is, but the bigger problem is understanding why life—the cell—is dynamically stable as a strongly interconnected network of reactions, organized in space and time in ways we do not grasp. …
The Origin of Life. This problem is one of the big ones in science. It begins to place life, and us, in the universe. Most chemists believe, as do I, that life emerged spontaneously from mixtures of molecules in the prebiotic Earth.
How? I have no idea. Perhaps it was by the spontaneous emergence of “simple” autocatalytic cycles and then, by their combination. On the basis of all the chemistry that I know, it seems to me astonishingly improbable. The idea of an RNA world is a good hint, but it is so far removed in its complexity from dilute solutions of mixtures of simple molecules in a hot, reducing ocean under a high pressure of CO2 that I don’t know how to connect the two.”

From the address given by George M. Whitesides upon the occasion of his accepting the Priestley Medal from the American Chemical Society in 2007. The Priestley Medal is one of the ACS’s most prestigious awards.

Prebiotic chemistry has not appreciably progressed in the 13 years since.

old white guy
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2020 5:10 am

abiogenesis is the belief that life can originate from non-living substances through purely natural processes, can’t happen. what I said about cells eliminates such a possibility.

Berényi Péter
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2020 12:11 pm


John Tillman
Reply to  Berényi Péter
January 3, 2020 4:02 pm


You provided none for your assertion, but I can offer lots. Rather than the many papers on the subject, how about this lecture from last year by Nobel laureate and leading OoL lab leader Jack Szostak:

The interesting thing is that, while the baseline Hadean atmosphere might have been mildly reducing to neutral, periodic impacts could have rendered it more reducing for a million years or so.

Please enjoy.

John Tillman
Reply to  Berényi Péter
January 2, 2020 8:24 am

While NH3 and CH4 were still present in the Late Hadean atmosphere, it was dominated by N2 and O-containing compounds such as CO2 and H2O. Thus, it has been characterized as weakly reducing or even neutral.

That Mars and Venus have high-CO2 air supports this view.

The first atmosphere (excluding a prior “air”of vaporized rock), as exemplified by the chemistry of chondrite meteorites, was probably highly reducing, but the H2 was lost to space, while NH3 and CH4 mostly remained. The second atmosphere derived from volcanic outgassing.

January 2, 2020 9:23 am

Let’s start with an argument
1) If there is life in the universe it began either naturally or non-naturally
1a) If life began naturally it was either due to random chance, or physical necessity
2) There is life in the universe
3a) The statistical burden is too high to believe that it is due to random chance
3b) Abiogenesis is not physically necessary
4) Conclusion – the origin of life is non-natural

There are many who believe that life began naturally but that there are supernatural forces. That is, a religious person can accept either natural or non-natural biogenesis. The outcome of the argument would not prevent religious belief, but it has the ability to exclude atheism. In my own personal discussions I find that 3a or 3b are rejected not because there is good evidence, but because the conclusion 4 is rejected prior to examining the evidence.
Let’s imagine for a moment a pool that is filled with nucleic acids, amino acids, fatty acids, and all the other metabolites necessary for life. Let’s also imagine that somehow this pool has a near infinite supply of sugars so that any life that manages to emerge has plenty of fuel. We can certainly imagine small chains forming and binding to other free molecules, and if the bonds along the chain are stronger than the bonds between chains they could even reproduce to a certain extent. However, life would require more than that. A simple prokaryote would require a DNA molecule that includes the instructions for the following:
DNA transcriptase
Metabolic pathway (consisting of several proteins no matter how it is done)
Cell Wall
any protein pumps that are in the cell wall
DNA instructions on how to form the transcriptase, metabolic proteins, ribosomes, and proteins in the wall

That is a lot to pop up simultaneously, but to be fair a bilipid membrane is fairly easy to produce so the cell wall isn’t difficult (since we assumed a pool filled with the stuff). The DNA also isn’t to fantastic since we also assumed a pool full of that. The real question I am stuck at is even if you have all the materials what is the likelihood that you can spontaneously form the DNA sequence that will be transcribed in a multistep process into functional proteins? That all depends on the probability of any particular protein being functional. Turns out the probability of any particular amino acid sequence of 300 units (the typical length of a functional fold for proteins in e-coli) has a probability of 1 in 10^53. Now consider that each protein has multiple folds, and we need multiple proteins just to meet this minimum functionality. Either you have to argue that there is some physical necessity that determines the minimally viable cell, or you have to swallow an enormous improbability in order to maintain strictly natural biogenesis.

Then shortly after this first life pops up it has to form the ability to manufacture each and every component that it is composed of. Somehow it will need to develop the pathways for each amino acid, each fatty acid, each sugar, etc. Each of those pathways are as unlikely as the initial one.

Since I am not committed apriori to philisophical naturalism I can follow the evidence where it leads. In this case the evidence is not only not available for physical processes, the statistical probability is low enough that I would reject the hypothesis out of hand unless I have some other overriding reason that compels me to accept natural biogenesis.

John Tillman
Reply to  chadb
January 2, 2020 10:04 am

Your arithmetic is not based upon chemical and biological reality. Nor is the prokaryote you describe anywhere near the minimal possible organism. That living bacteria are complex doesn’t mean that their and our ancestor four billion years ago was similarly complicated.

The minimal protocell doesn’t even need sugar for food. It probably got its energy directly from the environment, and used that flow to make its own sugars, nucleobases, phosphate groups and amino acids, which would themselves also exist ready-made by natural processes in the environment.

The first protocell most likely had a single gene making just one protein, of far fewer than 300 amino acids. The smallest functional polypeptide is glutathione, an oligomer with only three amino acids. There are lots and lots of small proteins, ie with fewer than 100 amino acids. The smallest human protein contains just 44.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 11:09 am

You posited an even more complicated organism than the one I did – one that is able to make its own sugars. Then I would have to ask – did the organism develop the process to make sugar in a reversible process, or did it develop two independent processes? Either way it’s quite a leap. Your proposed cell is able to directly harvest energy from the environment, and I assume that can’t be solar energy since you didn’t propose chlorophyll, so it is probably something from a thermal vent. If your first organisms live near a thermal vent then what is the point of storing sugar?
The first protocell most likely had a single gene making just one protein…” well, that protein better be some sort of transcriptase, otherwise the gene is completely useless. But then any cell that only has the gene for making transcriptase is pretty worthless since it can’t even build that protein without a ribosome. Maybe it was a gene for a ribosome so that the information on the DNA could be turned into another ribosome. But then you can’t read it without transcriptase. Also, you can’t run either of those processes without ATP, so maybe it was a gene for making ATP. The problem is that no DNA or RNA string would be worth anything at all unless it contained at the outset the instructions for making dozens of functional proteins.
How useful is glutathione on its own? I think without the code for glutamate–cysteine ligase and glutathione synthetase (each of which has a few more than 3 amino acids) the glutathione code wouldn’t be very helpful.
That’s my problem – everytime it appears that there is anything at all that’s simple inside the cell I learn that it is an integral part of an extraordinarily complicated system of systems with feedback loops and correction mechanisms. I am absolutely positive that you know all of this material better than I do, and are probably the top expert on this site for metabolic biochemistry. How many of the processes that you have studied are simple?
Not that long ago I was floored when I heard a discussion by a Nobel Laureate on his work about how vesicles get to the correct location. I thought it would be a simple process, but was complicated beyond anything I would have imagined. With each new slide the process appeared both more elegant a solution, and more complex a system. When that arises over and over at the smallest levels it is difficult for me to believe that each and every complicated system arose due to the luck of the die.

John Tillman
Reply to  chadb
January 2, 2020 3:16 pm

The energy source probably wasn’t sunlight, but volcanic and chemical in origin. At deep sea vents, sunlight wouldn’t have played a role, but UV light could have augmented volcanic heat and chemistry in ponds on land.

Your prokaryote is far more complex than my protocell. Sugars don’t need life to synthesize them. They self-assemble spontaneously both on Earth and in outer space. So do oligomers of amino acids (peptides) and RNA.

Reply to  chadb
January 2, 2020 10:21 am

What do you imagine about the “supernatural being” knowing all that to produce first life ? “We” know a lot of that what’s more or less necessary, but are not able to finish these steps to a first life. Where that “intelligence” does come from ? The knowledge, out of the nowhere ?
It’s human to believe in a supernatural god or what ever while not finding a solution to some problems.
Thats why they had to invent Thor to explain thunder etc.

Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 2, 2020 11:23 am

“What do you imagine about the supernatural being…”
I propose nothing about any such being here, since the attributes of any such being, beings, or force is irrelevant to the discussion of whether purely natural forces are sufficient to explain the origin of life.
My original statement flatly stated that many people reject either 3a or 3b because they don’t like the conclusion. Your response is “your conclusion is wrong,” thereby proving my point.

Reply to  chadb
January 2, 2020 10:27 am

@ chadb
For hints and deeper understanding:

worth a look into the book, good explanations, as first insight.

Reply to  chadb
January 2, 2020 11:45 am

If you knew nothing about radio waves and electronics, a radio or TV would be magic. They aren’t magic. You know nothing about how cells arose, but you invoke magic.

Reply to  Hoser
January 2, 2020 2:20 pm

Interesting assertion. You assume what I would do if I lacked knowledge in a specific subject. How can you possibly know that? Most children if introduced to a TV or radio will immediately start experimenting with it. I think that is probably what I would do, but it is hard to know what I would actually do given I can’t picture not having that knowledge.
You then assert that I invoke magic. I don’t think I am asserting magic. I assert that purely naturalistic explanations are insufficient to explain the origin of life. Magic would be more like “then presto chango – bam! its life, with no cause whatsoever! Amazing!” I am supposing a cause, although that cause is outside the physical universe. The fact that I posit a cause means I am not resorting to magic. The problem is the naturalist runs headlong into either claiming that very complicated structures either are necessary, or that the statistical probabilities inherent in DNA can be overcome.

Reply to  chadb
January 3, 2020 6:58 am

Check your math, and assumptions. Study the problem more so you have a better chance of doing a reasonable assessment. Starting with DNA, you have already made a mistake.

What is the probability your brain is all you need for consciousness? Statistically, that can’t happen, right? So you need a soul that exists apart from the body. Uh, sure.

Have you heard about the statistician who drowned in a river an average of 3 feet deep?

A G Foster
January 2, 2020 9:56 am

These attacks on Darwin’s method seem as unsophisticated as criticizing Newton’s laws of motion for displacing the music of the spheres. –AGF

January 2, 2020 10:16 am

Science is the art of the plausible, inferred with liberal license, without observation, without reproduction… because people want to, need to believe in something. Ironically, we cannot even reach a consensus when human evolution — process (i.e. individual life), not origin — begins.

January 2, 2020 10:21 am

Reading all these “Science vs. Creationism” comments on the origins of life always seem to me to show the hubris of man to think in our relatively short lifetime as a species we will figure out everything about the universe including what actually defines “life” and how any of it got started. This does not imply that we shouldn’t always continue our quest for knowledge about the universe and life. We just should never allow ourselves to get into “The Science is Settled” trap we see in the whole climate arena.

If you want to read a book by an immanent biologist that argues how our “mechanistic” view of the universe has limited our understanding of life, read J. Scott Turner’s book “Purpose & Desire”.



“A professor, biologist, and physiologist argues that modern Darwinism’s materialist and mechanistic biases have led to a scientific dead end, unable to define what life is—and only an openness to the qualities of “purpose and desire” will move the field forward.

Scott Turner contends. “To be scientists, we force ourselves into a Hobson’s choice on the matter: accept intentionality and purposefulness as real attributes of life, which disqualifies you as a scientist; or become a scientist and dismiss life’s distinctive quality from your thinking. I have come to believe that this choice actually stands in the way of our having a fully coherent theory of life.”

Growing research shows that life’s most distinctive quality, shared by all living things, is purpose and desire: maintain homeostasis to sustain life. In Purpose and Desire, Turner draws on the work of Claude Bernard, a contemporary of Darwin revered among physiologists as the founder of experimental medicine, to build on Bernard’s “dangerous idea” of vitalism, which seeks to identify what makes “life” a unique phenomenon of nature. To further its quest to achieve a fuller understanding of life, Turner argues, science must move beyond strictly accepted measures that consider only the mechanics of nature.

A thoughtful appeal to widen our perspective of biology that is grounded in scientific evidence, Purpose and Desire helps us bridge the ideological evolutionary divide.”

A G Foster
Reply to  Fergie
January 2, 2020 10:46 am

It didn’t start with Darwin any more than it started with Newton. The creationists could just as well argue that that Newton’s principles have led us to a dead end. –AGF

John Tillman
Reply to  A G Foster
January 2, 2020 12:24 pm

Modern science starts in AD 1543, when Copernicus and Vesalius both published books overturning the authority of the ancients, whether the Bible or Aristotle and Galen.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 2, 2020 6:16 pm

You both are missing my point and the point of the referenced book, which you should read, by the way. Even a cell has the “desire”, motivation, programing, “purpose”, whatever you want to call it, to survive and adapt, adjust, modify, etc. to do so until it eventually dies. This seems to be the one universal characteristic of living things. We certainly don’t understand why this came to be. The author of this book is just saying that investigating this aspect of the universe that we observe to learn more about it is neither non-scientific nor religious.

John Tillman
Reply to  Fergie
January 3, 2020 11:44 am

Turner’s book is gibberish. He did good professional work on social organisms as super-organisms, but then got carried away by unscientific flights of fancy.

January 2, 2020 11:54 am

DNA is a program.
It is not just a program, but an extremely complicated one. It has several layers of programming. For humans, it consists of millions of seperate switches that determine who we are not only physically, but emotionally, intelligently, and socially.
A human generation is about 15 years.
The first known multicellular life happened about 600 millions years ago.
So, how many good mutations would it require to go from the first multicellular life to humans would it take? Looking at the genetic diseases issue we have today, it seems that mutations are more likely to be negative than positive. Looking at the fact that if relatives mate, bad outcomes happens, it appears that beneficial genetic mutations have to happen simultaneously in separate families to survive.
I’m sorry, this does not give me the impression that random chance had anything to do with Humans happening…
Call it what you will, but I believe that God guides the process such that we have a working world and became who we are. From goo to you has no solid grounding in science at this point. I have yet to see a single evolutionary event happen where one thing gives birth to a different thing.
When you claim that germs and viruses evolve what you are really looking at is environmental survival of the fittest of already programmed options.

A G Foster
Reply to  astonerii
January 2, 2020 3:10 pm

I’m curious to hear your explanation for the distribution of species, starting with the mammalian groups of monotremes, marsupials, edentates, lemurs, and so on. –AGF

Reply to  astonerii
January 2, 2020 3:28 pm

Have a look at genomics. You will find the program encoded by DNA is nothing but horrible hack after hack. Of course, it gets filtered for function each generation, but that doesn’t prevent the structure from being a mess. It’s the mess that makes evolution possible.

What kind of mess? We see former viral elements scattered throughout, duplications, rearrangements, modifications of gene expression to make different products via intron excision as raw hnRNA is processed to make mRNA, vestigial genes that do nothing. There is clear evidence of chromosomal fusion in the case of humans (46 chromosomes) that distinguishes us from apes (48 chromosomes).

No sane intelligence would deliberately make such a mess. That’s excellent evidence of complexity growing out of chaos. You get more of what works.

However, there is more to consider. Many enzyme systems are highly optimized and it is unlikely they are improved by single mutations. One mutation leading to an amino acid replacement may disrupt the enzyme function by distorting the structure. It is possible a second mutation occurring later elsewhere in the structure can compensate for the distortion caused by the first, and the resulting double mutation could have a beneficial effect on the enzyme.

The probabilities for enzyme function improvement are low through accumulated random mutations, but the combination of diploidy, gene duplication, large numbers of organisms, many generations, selection for advantage, and gene hopping across species via viral vectors for example can allow more functional enzymes to persist, spread, and perhaps set the standard for function (until another better version comes along). Antibiotic resistance in pathogens comes to mind.

These processes can be seen working in humans and other species. Evidence exists in the DNA genomic structure itself. Our evolution may be produced in part through chaos, selection for advantage, but perhaps requiring a dysfunctional intermediate stage in some genes.

Some dysfunctional proteins are known to provide a survival advantage when a normal copy of the gene is also present. Sickle cell anemia is caused by a mutation in hemoglobin that promotes polymerization of hemoglobin proteins, normally functioning in groups of four. Individuals carrying the hemoglobin-S mutation and a normal hemoglobin gene (heterozygotes) are better able to resist malaria, and survive. Those with two normal copies of hemoglobin (homozygotes) have reduced survival in regions having malaria. Those who have two copies of hemoglobin-S (homozygous for the mutant allele) are the ones who suffer from sickle cell anemia which strikes when a reduced oxygen state promotes polymerization of the hemoglobin-S molecules in red blood cells, distorting their shape into the distinctive crescent.

Population biology tells us dysfunction in one copy of a gene can lead to a population carrying and increasing the frequency of a recessive genetic “disease” allele. Positive selection under some conditions elevates the frequency of the “disease” causing allele. If you are a heterzygote in a region with high incidence of malaria, you might be happy having a hemoglobin-S allele. But if you are unfortunate and have two copies of the mutant hemoglobin-S, you are likely to die of sickle cell anemia. The population as a whole benefits when many members can resist a survival threat. The hemoglobin heterozygotes can resist malaria. Their numbers will grow.

What happens with heterozygous parents have children? We expect in the population such offspring will be 50% heterozygous, 25% will be homozygous normal, and 25% will by homozygous mutant and have sickle cell in the case of hemoglobin-S. There are many other cases of genetic “disease” that provide a survival advantage in heterozygotes.

A population geneticist will understand genetic diversity is a strength in a population or species as a whole. It is unknown what challenges may threaten a population. It is the chance mutations that may be the key to survival for a subset of the population when the rest succumb. Thus, a “master race” is a silly idea, since conditions may change and the entire group of masters fail to survive. The dysfunctional may remain and repopulate the species. From this perspective, “the meek shall inherit the Earth” is very true.

Knowing this mechanism for evolution and population genetics, it calls into question the wisdom of correcting for genetic “disease”. There is still little understanding of how our DNA program works, little understanding of the dynamics of genetic information sharing across species, which processes are most important, and which ones we would be wise to preserve.

If we take a deep level of control over our own DNA program, then we have a chance to guide ourselves more rapidly into new forms that may have better survival traits in other environments, such as on Mars, or in space itself. However, that requires knowledge of enzyme system function we currently don’t have. We will be playing with individuals, their genetic make-up will persist in all their progeny. We won’t know what the long-term effects there may be perhaps for generations. But that’s what people do. We play with fire. Then we understand how it works, sometimes after very harsh lessons.

A smart molecular biologist knows it is important to keep some wild type strains around. You may tinker with the program too much and it may be necessary to go back and start over to go in a different direction perhaps. Good programmers keep their code in repositories to retrieve archived code from earlier working versions when bad mistakes (difficult to correct) propagate into later versions.

If we are careful, we will be able to keep some wild-type humans around. However, I suspect it’s more likely we will tinker with our genes and these modified sequences will spread throughout the entire population for better or for worse. I have little confidence the tinkerers will actually know what they are doing. They will find out the hard way.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Nature seems to thrive on chaos. We will just get more of what works.

Reply to  Hoser
January 2, 2020 4:18 pm

And than there is epigenetic 😀

John Tillman
Reply to  Hoser
January 3, 2020 11:42 am

Yes, the whole replication process is such a Rube Goldberg apparatus that only an Idiotic Designer would have created it.

Its very complexity shows that it evolved, rather than being created ex nihilo by an Intelligent Designer.

Reply to  astonerii
January 2, 2020 3:30 pm

But you know that speciation has no restriction in time, it can be as fast as some years only for some species of fishes in African lakes nowerdays or the Darwin finches. Occupation of a new ecological niche, and speciation can start, often fast
Not to forget that in an O2 “free” world we speak about you have no ozone layer and UV radiation can pass down to the soil with a high mutagenic potential.

John Tillman
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 3, 2020 11:46 am

Some ozone might have formed from the breakup of water molecules under intense UV light.

Speciation can and does occur in a single generation, as with polyploidy, but can also take thousands or millions of generations.

John Tillman
Reply to  astonerii
January 2, 2020 3:31 pm

New species arising in a single generation has been observed over and over again, and created in the lab. New species, especially of plants, are made all the time via whole genome duplication.

But more often a thing gives birth to another thing with only a few differences, which accumulate over generations.

Because you’ve never seen something happen doesn’t mean that it doesn’t.

January 2, 2020 12:22 pm

It is possible life cam from an asteroid that struck earth. Either the asteroid had life on it or contained some other molecule that allowed for some natural mechanism to create life. This molecule could still be on earth but next to impossible to find if it was rare.

It would be interesting to know how many meteors or asteroids, or comets have had their material come into contact with earth.

John Tillman
Reply to  Stevek
January 2, 2020 3:22 pm

Lots of meteors striking Earth have carried the building blocks of life, to include far more amino acids than are used by organisms here. The organic compounds delivered on space rocks come in both left and right-handed versions, unlike most of those in life.

Reply to  Stevek
January 2, 2020 3:34 pm

If we assume that life on earth came from asteroids you only switch the strating point of life to an other place..

John Tillman
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 3, 2020 11:39 am

True, but there are good paths to life both on Earth and in space, which obviously differ in some respects.

Smart Rock
January 2, 2020 12:46 pm

The origin of life on Earth took place a very long time ago and the possibility that it left a record of itself that we might find fossilized in a rock somewhere is zero. If anyone, for their own personal reasons, needs to bring god into the picture, there’s nothing to stop them. However, it’s dangerous for believers to decry “OOL” research because it’s quite possible that such research will succeed in creating a self-replicating molecule not unlike DNA abiogenically. All you believers need to do is wait until it happens and say – that’s how god did it, wasn’t she clever?

Reply to  Smart Rock
January 2, 2020 3:25 pm

Your thought experiment would only establish one possible scenario for how life evolved, not necessarily originated. Unfortunately, science has progressed as the art of plausible. Both divine and evolutionary creationism are illogical constructs, with empathetic appeal.

January 2, 2020 12:46 pm

Even if life is a naturally occurring event and even if some extraterrestrials landed this afternoon, this would not obviate the existence of God. Though I do believe that the concept everything coming from nothing, including time itself, some 13.7 billion years ago, is pretty hinky and though the big bang is apparently a fairly common belief among “standard” model scientists, I have a problem with it. And yes I have read a great deal about the various theories of the origins of life and the universe itself. But then I’m just an old engineer.

John Tillman
Reply to  JimG1
January 4, 2020 8:22 am

The Big Bang isn’t a belief, but an hypothesis supported by the best available evidence, and rpeatedly confirmed in detail. Should a better hypothesis come along, then scientists will find it more convincing. No belief involved.

But, yes, of course faith in God should not be challenged by scientific discoveries. If you believed in God because of biblical cosmology, as amended by Aristotle and Ptolemy, teaching that the sphere carrying the Sun goes around the Earth, at rest at the center of the universe, then confirmation of Copernicus, as amended by Kepler and explained by Newton, must have shaken your faith.

January 2, 2020 2:10 pm

Could, would, should have emerged from lakes with high phosphorus or whatever. This sounds exactly like Global Warming Alarmist speculation. It is all so familiar these days that you can make it up yourself, There is no proof of anything. Now DNA software, information, operating systems, left-handed amino acids, rare proteins and all the design complexity arose from hot ponds of phosphorous. Good luck recreating that in the sterile lab. let alone in reality. Have they checked the mathematical probabilities….No?
This is what science has deteriorated to today. It is just hand waving, speculative fund-raising.

January 2, 2020 3:21 pm

Life could have been deposited on Earth. Life could have evolved (i.e. chaotic process). Perhaps we’re just coherent energy blobs that only manifest in this system. There are somethings that we can know, don’t know, or will never know. Conflation of logical domains is an intellectual game, truths spoken to fats, for political and social leverage.

Frankly, even if aliens were to appear, and declare they were the origin of life on Earth, even that claim could not be discerned scientifically. Science is, with cause, a near-frame philosophy and practice through observation, replication, and deduction.

Craig Rogers
January 2, 2020 4:46 pm

No wonder this world is so depraved lacking in any morality.

How many books have been written, which one is the truth? All garbage! You’ve been scammed

With all your brains put together here go to the lab and produce some sort of basic life.

What it had to happen by chance instead because it’s too complex?

Romans 1:20

Rev 4:11

2 Cor 4:4

Heart conditions are what count.
Jehovah is real and hates lies, evolution is a whopper

JW. Org in 1006 languages

John Tillman
Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 3, 2020 12:23 pm

Sorry, but evolution is a fact, observed every day in every way everywhere.

Your cult OTOH preaches a pack of lies, blaspheming God.

Steve B
January 2, 2020 11:59 pm

Joh 1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
Joh 1:2  He was in the beginning with God. 
Joh 1:3  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 

The Word is Jesus the Christ and He made the phosphorus. I feel sorry for the scientists who just create fake news speculations. Their life work just a puff of smoke.

John Tillman
Reply to  Steve B
January 3, 2020 12:58 pm

Jesus did not make boron.

It and related light elements and isotopes, such as lithium, beryllium and helium-3, are mainly produced via cosmic ray spallation. As was confirmation of the Big Bang hypothesis itself in 1964, cosmogenic nucleosynthesis was discovered by accident during the 1970s.

Tiny amounts of Li was made with H and He soon after the Big Bang, and a little boron is produced from stellar nucleosynthesis, but the present abundance of these elements owes to cosmic ray nucleosynthesis.

Steve B
Reply to  John Tillman
January 4, 2020 1:36 am

LOL of course and you have proof. I love how peeps make stuff up then present it as proof.

John Tillman
Reply to  Steve B
January 4, 2020 6:31 am

Cosmic ray spallation forming boron has been repeatedly observed in nature:

Lank has some clues
January 3, 2020 3:17 am

I’m a geologist and have worked in mineral exploration for four decades. For the last several years I have worked in northern Ontario where the rocks are around 2 billion years old. I call them earths ‘mid life crisis’ because they were deposited during the Huronian glacial events which represented several glaciations or ‘snowball earth’ events which saw ice cover over most of earths surface in several glacial events. It also was the first sign of significant oxygen in the atmosphere. These rocks contain widespread fossils of bacteria mounds and beds called stromatolites. Bacteria clearly ruled the world at this time and stromatolites are abundant in this cold dark paleoproterozoic environment.

Bacteria were clearly well developed by 2 billion years and I suspect earlier bacterial life in the Archean were developing between 4-3.5 billion years in what I believe would have been a very different environment than what we have today. We do not know the composition of the sea which would likely be iron rich, saline and acidic.
Archean earth atmosphere composition is also unknown and although it lacked oxygen and would not have protective ozone to block the suns lethal UV light it would have formed a much thinner blanket than the atmosphere today. As a result the sun would have been very much hotter than today. Day-night and seasonal variations would have been much more pronounced. Very hot days and freezing nights, hot summers and ice cover in winter.
The most stable and protective environment for microbes, possibly bacteria to evolve would be beneath polar ice and protected from damaging UV light.

We now have the technology to examine the environment in Antarctic lakes covered by hundreds of metres of ice for hundreds of thousands of years. These lakes have been found to contain thriving bacterial communities with many microbes using oxygen-free metabolic processes for their energy. These are the equivalent environments to the anoxic Archean systems in which life commenced and these are the communities we need to examine to determine early life forms.

Reply to  Lank has some clues
January 3, 2020 7:59 am

Chemosynthesis likely preceded photosynthesis, and operated in an O2 free environment, but with plenty of hydrogen sulfide and methane.
Compare chemosynthesis
CO2 + 2 H2S -> CH2O + 2S + H2O
and photosynthesis
CO2 + H2O -> CH2O + O2

Carbohydrate biochemistry is supported by chemosynthesis and photosynthesis. Life does not require free O2. Life exists now underground, and may have originated, or persisted underground after meteor bombardment. There may have been different competing biochemistries on Earth, but only one emerged. All living things on Earth have more or less the same genetic code, the same encoding of amino acids by a series of 3-base codons in a DNA sequence specifying which amino acid should come next in the chain of a protein.

We may never find evidence of the true origin of life if it started deep underground billions of years ago. Deposits of sulfur in cracks of rocks that held running water? Or, someday future generations may find evidence of life on Earth having a different biochemistry, but went extinct. If life exists on Mars, it is likely underground also, where there is warmth and liquid water, and abundant chemicals to support whatever biochemistry Mars may have developed. Don’t expect DNA, and even if DNA, not the same genetic code.

There is some speculation life may have originated on Mars, which was more habitable 4+ billion years ago. The story goes martian life was blasted off the surface by meteorite impact, and traveled frozen to Earth. The argument is also interesting in terms of RNA biochemistry and phosphate. Fun to think about.

John Tillman
Reply to  Hoser
January 3, 2020 12:50 pm

Chemosynthesis definitely preceded photosynthesis, as practiced by cyanobacteria and plants.

Cyanobacteria evolved from chemosynthetic ancestors.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2020 2:18 pm

Yes, I’m used to writing “likely” to tone down my opinionated self, and I should not have used it here.

John Tillman
Reply to  Hoser
January 3, 2020 3:56 pm

That’s usually the best “science communication” policy.

John Tillman
Reply to  Lank has some clues
January 6, 2020 3:10 pm

There might have been ozone, thanks to photodisassociation of water.

High UV light flux in the Late Hadean and Early Archaean might actually have helped life develop.

January 3, 2020 9:52 am

Boron on earth is nothing unknown. most you find in Turkey, Mojave Desert Argentinia. What you find in deeper earth is unknown. If you follow T. Gold, that sholdt be the place of lifs start.
Fluid water will be to find there too, very hot, so that bacteria still survive around 100°C and live near volcanoes until today.

John Tillman
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 3, 2020 12:59 pm
January 3, 2020 9:56 am

Boron (B) you find in nearly all you eat, so why should that be of Mars origin ?

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