> The results add credence to the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis, says Carell, who is at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. ...
It's worth noting that what was made were nucleobases - flat very low molecular weight molecules - that when attached to ribose yield nucleotides.
It is nucleotides, not nucleobases, that form RNA.
The "RNA world hypothesis" still needs to explain where the ribose came from, how it was joined with the bases that were supposedly littering the Earth's surface, and how the resulting nucleotides started spontaneously assembling themselves through combination with phosphate into polymers.
That's a very, very tall order in chemistry.
Is this really a given? Certainly there must be something in the universe that "started it all" and has no origin of itself. Or, alternatively, everything in the universe has a history stretching back infinitely far, but that's equally incomprehensible and still allows you to perform the same "trick" (in this case: life has always existed).
Not saying that I believe in intelligent design, but in this case it seems to me that it does answer a question without creating any new ones.
If you're happy to entertain a causeless cause to explain life, why make it an intelligent designer, a very complicated object? Why couldn't life itself be the causeless cause? A cell is much simpler than anything capable of inventing the universe. All 'intelligent design' does is move the problem (and amplify it).
I think an intelligent designer feels simpler to a human because "conscious entity" is implemented as a conceptual primitive in our minds, for obvious evolutionary reasons. The idea of a non-corporeal mind spontaneously arising feels more plausible than a single-celled organism spontaneously assembling, because we need many more symbols to represent the latter. But it's a misleading perception.
Because everything we know about this universe needs a cause, nothing in this universe is causeless, so you can't simply say that "something" inside that universe is causeless.
And everything we know about life screams causality, from the need to eat and drink to generate energy, to sex for reproduction.
If life can actually be causeless why is it so fragile and dependent on so many things to keep itself from death?
> A cell is much simpler than anything capable of inventing the universe.
A cell is also not capable of creating itself out of nothing.
Your lack of knowledge/understanding about how can something create the universe is not a justification for assuming that it created itself.
You need a causeless cause (otherwise we wouldn't exist), so you either choose it to be the universe itself (which is a wild guess with zero evidence and hence not even scientific as you claim), or it is God (and yes you can't
and will never understand how it is the first cause)
I'd rather believe in God and his messages to us that brought actual evidence, than believe in an unconscious universe creating itself with no evidence.
Of course, belief in God is an emotionally charged topic. Many people rely on their belief for many things, and trying to argue against it is seldom productive - I'm hesitant to engage for that reason. You're free to believe what you'd like. But, since you've brought up "evidence"
I don't agree that there is more evidence for God creating the universe than there is for some kind of spontaneous event. For a start, the existence of the universe is extremely verifiable, much more so than God - no matter how much you believe in the "messages". For another, the universe appears to governed by very simple rules of physics (although not quite simple enough for my "several bits" threshold of acausality, just yet). Attempting to explain a fairly simple phenomenon that definitely exists with a very complex phenomenon of uncertain existence doesn't seem to add any explanatory power, and in fact just multiplies entities unnecessarily. All you've done there is take the mystery, put it in a box labeled "God" (along with a bunch of other things), and then said we're not supposed to look inside the box.
Addendum - I don't think the universe needs a "cause", per se - causality is related to the arrow of time, and that is a property internal to the universe. That's not to say that nothing needs explaining, but I think we should focus on "simplicity" rather than "causality".
It's much more honest to say "we don't know yet".
Fortunately, there's an abundance of evidence that complex phenomena can (and do, more often than not) arise from simple rules. Apart from this being the goal of all physics, at which it has been wildly successful, we can find examples all over mathematics. The cellular automaton "Rule 90" is a nice visual example of this: the rules are only a few bits and the initial state is a single cell, but the behavior is a tantalizing mix of ordered structures on the micro scale and chaos on the macro scale - a suggestive metaphor for our own universe.
If you saw a picture of a section of Rule 90 without knowing what it was, and tried to explain it, which explanation feels more satisfying? A mathematical rule + initial conditions that fit into a few bits? Or "someone drew it in an image editor because they thought it looked pretty"? Which has more predictive power?
Why not have the creator exist inside of time, or around it, or beside it? Maybe all existence was just out to tea right then with its creator, because the creator’s very attached to a particular tea flavor only found on earth, but will later be the creator, and will one day be in between two dozen creators? These are valid phrases that do not refer to literal relations, like “I am beside myself”, or “snapped back to reality”—the spatial foundations of these linguistic concepts refer to distance and spatial/time relations but don’t describe anything testable or reliably true. Intelligent design as a concept exploits language to imply absurd things, like that an omniscient omnipresent, omnipowerful, undetectable force is somehow also analogous to a mortal, finite, fallible, conscious human.
FWIW all this applies to holographic universe theories as well. The narrative makes 100% sense, but it doesn’t refer to empirically meaningful concepts.
It doesn't posit anything about other intelligence or life, just that the biological information necessary to kick off a self-replicating cell that undergoes evolution is too complex and too specific to happen randomly on Earth.
Even naturalistic panspermia theories are compatible with intelligent design, because it shifts the frame of abiogenesis to different conditions where cellular formation may actually become probable.
In this line of reasoning "Why this set of constants" doesn't matter, because only the universes that could have observers would be observed.
That is to say, we may not be able to easily predict and rationalize the beginning of life based on the initial conditions of the earth, because it is likely that it was an improbable fluke. It feels like a lottery winner trying to explain how they won the lottery.
If we do the chemistry and figure out the mechanism and it looks like it happens all the time, then that tells us one more term in the Drake equation and gives us a reason to go check out the exoplanets.
I think we are going to find that the preconditions for life are quite common. The way solar fusion and supernovas work, what atoms are produced, The distribution of material and of those atoms within an accretion ring... if a planet forms at the right distance, then it will have the mix of chemical precursors.
Honestly I suspect the only thing that makes Earth rare is our freakishly large moon. If we can ever prove that life is viable on a timescale of eons on a planet without such huge tidal forces pumping the biosphere, that will be a revelation.
Now most of the rest of us are still curious to find out how stuff works around here.
> The next major problem Carell wants to tackle is what reactions could have formed the sugar ribose, which needs to link to nucleobases before RNA can form.
Possibly something resembling the Calvin cycle could be the start you talk of. 
I've enjoyed Bruce Damer's explanation of related theory, "The Hot Spring Hypothesis for the Origin of Life". Search "goldilocks chemistry" for some helpful background and visualizations on this page - https://extendedevolutionarysynthesis.com/the-hot-spring-hyp...
He's a fascinating individual who wears many hats. He's done a ton of interviews on podcasts (his own, Duncan Trussel Family Hour, Erik Davis's Expanding Mind, Future Fossils, and Rogan come to mind).
Which seems cool to me.
The book contains some counter arguments against the primordial soup theory
I am not really qualified to comment though.
1. Simple chemical droplets can divide and multiply in the right conditions: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1603.01571v1.pdf
2. “Evolution” from that simple beginning may be enough according to the theory of dynamic kinetic stability: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3843823/
Might be very wrong but still a beautiful picture.
In particular, note that one of the current guess is that the first barely living thing was based in RNA instead of DNA, so if they use DNA in the calculation it is probably wrong. (But nobody is sure. More info https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RNA_world )
The first problem is that we don't know the exact chemical pathway, so it's difficult to estimate how hard they are.
This article in particular is about that, in some conditions (that are similar to a small pond that get desecated from time to time) it is posible to get the four bases of RNA. The probability of the reactions change with the concentration, metallic contamination, and with other molecules that are around, so this article gives a new calculation of one of the pathways.
It's only a small steps, it only creates the bases of the RNA but this method doesn't create the sugar part of the RNA or doesn't explain how they bind with the phosphate ions. There are known pathways, for this, but we probably don't know the scenario where these reactions are easiest. There are a lot of unknow steps, a lot of unknow unknow steps and perhaps unknow unknow unknow steps. I'm optimistic that this can be solved in 200 or 300 years, but it may be more difficult.
The main point is that you don't need a full functional bacteria as the first barely living thing. You need some crappy thing that can almost reproduce itself a little.
(Some guess is that the initial version was a family of similar things with a crappy copy system that produced a similar things instead of the same thing. But nobody is sure.)
I'm more skeptical of the claim of the clocks. If the clock is made of metal, most metal get oxidized very fast. We know this process very well so it's easy to calculate how long it will survive. One of the exceptions is gold, but it is too soft so it's easy to calculate how long it will survive. I can't imagine how the mainspring gets winded, but it's difficult to calculate the probability of such a device. Also it's difficult to calculate the probability to get the shape and interconnections. But the easy part is that it will get rusty and worn out in a short geological time.
The main problem is that a almost (or fully functional) watch doesn't create more almost (or fully functional) watches. So if a lucky watch is created by chance, you must wait approximately the same amount of time to get a second one.
Instead, a short RNA piece may have some enzymatic properties to make the production of copies easier, and may have some properties to be good as a mold for copying. The details are far from clear, but some RNA have enzymatic properties and RNA is good for getting copied. So RNA is a good candidate, but again, nobody is sure.
(DNA is good for getting copied, but it doesn't have enzymatic properties. Many proteins have enzymatic properties, but they are very difficult to copy.)
The fundamental point underlying the Nature article is that we don't actually know "the odds of life creating itself via basic chemical pathways". What we do know is that life appeared on Earth quite soon after liquid water.
It’s not so simple. If something is extremely unlikely but also has many chances to occur, the probability of the thing occurring is a very large number divided by another very large number. In these cases, it’s not always clear if the resulting probability will be high or low.
Just stating that there are quadrillions of potential interactions is meaningless if the chances of any one forming something useful can range from one in a billion to one in a quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion. Much like zero divided by zero (or in this case infinity divided by infinity) the overall probability is pretty much undefined.
The really interesting thing would be finding nucleotides or nitrogenous bases where there isn’t life, eg on Mars or an asteroid.
It doesn't explain everything, it is just a link in the chain of things that increases our understanding of our world.
> Carell, an organic chemist, and his collaborators have now demonstrated a chemical pathway that — in principle — could have made A, U, C and G
in principle, what? No! The headline implies that actual RNA had formed, spontaneously. Not in principal.
Going back to arguing with Creationists.
The article claims the synthesis has been demonstrated, so I think that in principle is there because we do not actually know if this particular process occurred in nature.
Now, Carell’s team has shown how all nucleobases could form under one set of conditions: two separate ponds that cycle through the seasons, going from wet to dry, from hot to cold, and from acidic to basic, and with chemicals occasionally flowing from one pond to the other. The researchers first let simple molecules react in hot water and then allowed the resulting mix to cool down and dry up, forming a residue at the bottom that contained crystals of two organic compounds.
They then added water back, and one of the compounds dissolved and was washed away into another reservoir. The absence of that water-soluble molecule allowed the other compound to undergo further reactions. The researchers then mixed the products again, and their reactions formed the nucleobases.
This is progress (especially as the yield is apparently quite high), but as both azaa and the last paragraph of the article point out, we are still lacking the ribose backbone of the RNA molecule.
I don't think it is possible to have a killer argument against determined creationists, as they do not regard evidence in the same way as you and I do. Any discusion with them will take the form of a whack-a-mole game.
Does this mean a new lower bound for the fl factor for the drake equation ?
That "strong indication" comment is BS.
If this is true, then there may have been many independently evolved microorganisms pre-bombardment, but only a few colonies survived because they happened to live deep underwater near volcanic vents. Perhaps also, in this era of reduced genetic diversity, one colony was especially capable of adapting to the new environment and quickly outcompeted all the other surviving colonies.
Or maybe aliens did it. Who knows.
Remember that that single common ancestor was _not_ alone on the planet. They might have been millions or even hundreds of millions of other potential ancestors, but if there were, all of them died out before the start of the fossil record.
I'm no chemist, but I was curious one day so I looked through the chemical composition of humans, and was surprised to see that almost all of the base elements from the periodic table that we are composed of are lighter than air. Just ran the numbers again for this post:
~ 3.8% calcium,phosphorus,
The highest atomic number for any of these elements is 20 (calcium), while krypton is listed on wikipedia as a "major constituent in earth's atmosphere" with an atomic number of 36.
EDIT: And in fact it gets more interesting when you analyze the chemical composition of DNA / RNA.
This is almost completely gibberish since you don't find atoms in isolation.
No you don't. You find them in molecules. Nowadays it is a bit tough to find the pure gases in our planet, but they are readily available in high quantities in our universe. In gaseous form, even.
This may not be directly relevant to this idea, but first thing that came to mind when I read your comment was this:
"To my understanding" ? Those 1952 experiments yielded 20 amino acids, and this experiment in 2016 to 2019 experiments merely are demonstrating RNA can be made with a similar experiment? Our cells naturally use RNA, specifically mRNA in a "translation" process at the Ribosomes part of our cells where the Amino Acids are used to create longer protein chains.
Am I remembering my AP Biology correctly or did I get something wrong?
Glad to see chemists are still trying to answer this beautiful, burning question. To those in this thread wondering: yes, there are people so flabbergasted by abiogenesis that they turn to alternative answers.
That is, can organic chemists create functioning RNA from scratch? How about a strand of DNA? (And, by scratch, I mean starting with components that were not derived from living organisms.)
Not sure where I saw it. hackernews? Might have been Scientific American.
I anyone remembers I would appreciate a link.
Im kind of upset that they don't refer to it going forward as GUAC (as in guacamole)
Any life form that has reached the cognitive capability to reason about itself will be amazed by the sheer "coincidence" of their habitat. "wow, isn't it amazing that our planet's atmosphere is composed of the very ammonia we need to survive in?"
No invisible hand required.
Also evolution is "intelligently selective". Surviving and reproducing is a pretty intelligent mechanism. It will find local maxima pretty effectively.
Isn't this a non sequitur? Whether any life form would wonder about its existence (probable or otherwise) has no bearing whatever on whether it evolved or was designed or specially created.
I'm sure there is a Douglas Adams passage that illustrates this but I can't remember it.
Now the question of exactly how improbable is more relevant, and this is why people care about making primordial soups more easily: everyone agrees that abiogenesis is improbable.
Since chemistry is not selective (or at least no one has demonstrated a parallel mechanism for natural selection that applies to chemistry), our tools are to somehow find ways to change random chance to dependent probabilities and to find enough time for the chemistry to happen. While we have a fairly good grasp of the time limits, it's the probability that is harder to quantify.
None of this has advanced any understanding of the Neo-Darwinian origin of life model.
There's still no working theory of how one gets from basic building blocks to a fully-functioning working cell, nevermind the rest.
This article shows that C could have spontaneously happened. It's not at all meaningless. Is it the whole story? Of course not. But it's an interesting part of the chain. Science is slow. Don't throw out the transistor because it's not an iphone.
The origin of life is very much a speculative area of science. I thought Nick Lane's The Vital Question was an interesting take on how life could have gotten started. I'm not qualified to comment on the validity of the chemistry behind it, though.
This is also how I see it, and I'd like to know the counter-argument.
Also, what "purpose" narrative?
Is contradicting the Neo-Darwinist model of life somehow not allowed?
Does contradicting it make me a closet Christian, in your eyes?
Because I don't see an answer in Neo-Darwinism or any religion.
I'm happy not knowing, just as I'm happy to criticize people who claim to know.
I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that you're genuinely curious.
But we've been down this road of chemical soups before ~ and gotten nothing out of it.
I'm just frustrated that they seem to keep chasing the same failed ideas.
It's time to look for other explanations... not a religious one, at that.
Some biologists look towards a meteoric explanation of life, but punting it off-planet isn't an explanation, either...
Saying that the idea of "a primordial soup produced the building blocks that eventually led to all life on earth" has failed because some extraordinarily limited experiments (spatially, chemically, temporally, and complexity limited) haven't produced cellular life is about like saying that the "fusion of hydrogen produces the heat of stars" theory has failed because we haven't been able to produce stable fusion here on earth. The scope of the effect that was likely produced in the primordial environment over billions of years is beyond basic human comprehension.
Most here seem to reason the other way around - it must have happened, so we'll just keep looking until we figure out how. I'd like to think that we could reach a point at which we could confidently say "this universe doesn't have the probabilistic resources to make it happen" instead of kicking the can down the road indefinitely.
All you can do is build bigger vats, just like physicists build bigger supercolliders, hoping for a result.
Given such complex lifeforms, even a billion years wouldn't suffice to explain going from a RNA bases to a modern day human.
And no, I don't buy the Christian fairytale, either.
It's fine for me to accept that we humans have no answer as to life's origins.