New Theories on the Origin of Life

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Today the New York Times brings us an interesting look at the origin of life. It tackles this central puzzle: "Which came first, the proteins of living cells or the genetic information that makes them? How could the metabolism of living things get started without an enclosing membrane to keep all the necessary chemicals together? But if life started inside a cell membrane, how did the necessary nutrients get in?"

The article is worth a read if you've ever wondered how life could arise from simple organic compounds; this article delves into bits of the technical details of how self-replicating, spontaneously dividing cells might have come about. Here's a snippet:

Yet rocks that formed on Earth 3.8 billion years ago, almost as soon as the bombardment had stopped, contain possible evidence of biological processes. If life can arise from inorganic matter so quickly and easily, why is it not abundant in the solar system and beyond? If biology is an inherent property of matter, why have chemists so far been unable to reconstruct life, or anything close to it, in the laboratory?

...The questions may seem moot, since life did start somehow. But for the small group of researchers who insist on learning exactly how it started, frustration has abounded. Many once-promising leads have led only to years of wasted effort. Scientists as eminent as Francis Crick, the chief theorist of molecular biology, have quietly suggested that life may have formed elsewhere before seeding the planet, so hard does it seem to find a plausible explanation for its emergence on Earth.

Read the rest for a nice bit of popular science reporting. Be sure to check out the video of Vesicle Nucleation (located around the fourth paragraph of the article).

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June 16, 2009 - 3:49pm
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