Monday, February 25, 2008

Furthering the Sciences...


"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...' "
--Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992)
For years all we've been hearing is that "Life just doesn't happen." In fact, it is one of the main tenants of "creationist theory" (Ha!) that, since one has yet to create "life" in the lab, it must therefor be impossible, and hence, we must need a god...

Insert new knowledge:

One morning in late 1997, Stanley Miller lifted a glass vial from a cold, bubbling vat. For 25 years he had tended the vial as though it were an exotic orchid, checking it daily, adding a few pellets of dry ice as needed to keep it at –108 degrees Fahrenheit. He had told hardly a soul about it. Now he set the frozen time capsule out to thaw, ending the experiment that had lasted more than one-third of his 68 years.

Miller had filled the vial in 1972 with a mixture of ammonia and cyanide, chemicals that scientists believe existed on early Earth and may have contributed to the rise of life. He had then cooled the mix to the temperature of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa—too cold, most scientists had assumed, for much of anything to happen. Miller disagreed. Examining the vial in his laboratory at the University of California at San Diego, he was about to see who was right.

As Miller and his former student Jeffrey Bada brushed the frost from the vial that morning, they could see that something had happened. The mixture of ammonia and cyanide, normally colorless, had deepened to amber, highlighting a web of cracks in the ice. Miller nodded calmly, but Bada exclaimed in shock. It was a color that both men knew well—the color of complex polymers made up of organic molecules. Tests later confirmed Miller's and Bada’s hunch. Over a quarter-century, the frozen ammonia-cyanide blend had coalesced into the molecules of life: nucleobases, the building blocks of RNA and DNA, and amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The vial’s contents would support a new account of how life began on Earth and would arouse both surprise and skepticism around the world.
Did anyone else note the lack of a cosmic sneeze or the presence of clay?

Ice may prove the crucial ingredient here, too. Deamer and his former student Pierre-Alain Monnard (now at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico) have run experiments frozen at 0°F for a month, without the aid of templates. In those relatively brief experiments they already see RNA molecules up to 30 bases long, at least as long as other researchers have seen in similar experiments without ice.

That is a good start, but it leaves unanswered the question: How do you get from tiny snippets of RNA to longer, well-crafted chains that could have acted as the first enzymes, doing fancy things like copying themselves The shortest RNA enzyme chains known today are about 50 bases long; most have more than 100. To work effectively, moreover, an RNA enzyme must fold correctly, which requires exactly the right sequence of bases.

A young scientist named Alexander Vlassov stumbled upon a possible answer. He was working at SomaGenics, a biotech company in Santa Cruz, California, to develop RNA enzymes that latch on to the hepatitis C virus. His RNA enzymes were behaving strangely: They normally consisted of a single segment of RNA, but every time he cooled them below freezing to purify them, the chain of RNA spontaneously joined its ends into a circle, like a snake biting its tail. As Vlassov worked to fix the technical glitch, he noticed that another RNA enzyme, called hairpin, also acted strangely. At room temperature, hairpin acts like scissors, snipping other RNA molecules into pieces. But when Vlassov froze it, it ran in reverse: It glued other RNA chains together end to end.

Vlassov and his coworkers, Sergei Kazakov and Brian Johnston, realized that the ice was driving both enzymes to work in reverse. Normally when an enzyme cuts an RNA chain in two, a water molecule is consumed in the process, and when two RNA chains are joined, a water molecule is expelled. By removing most of the liquid water, the ice creates conditions that allow the RNA enzyme to work in just one direction, joining RNA chains.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen: Abiogenesis has happened. No, a large chimp didn't appear in the ice. No, it did not dwell on it's existence, question it's place in the world, or seek absolution from its inherent sin nature. It was RNA and DNA created in ice from ammonia and cyanide. Nothing more, nothing less. Of course, it was considerably more than the seven days, lacked a certain flair for the dramatic perhaps. After all, it's ice cubes forming the basic building blocks of life! How droll!

Indeed, it is a little bit funny (this feeling inside). And, apparently, this is not a "eureka" moment. Eureka moments are far and few between in science, that pain staking art which continually tries and tests everything to find out the truth. After all, isn't it the truth that will set you free? Or is it the facts which set you free?

"I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true."
--Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)
I hope you all will take the time to read the entire article--this is fascinating stuff.
Thanks to Whore Church for bringing this article to my attention.

2 comments:

mom said...

hello jason! this is what you are blogging about when you KNOW your mom had such a BAD day with that horrible phone company! who cares about this!! its all about my problem with the phone company! :) they are EVIL! i was very very close just getting rid of everything that has anything to do with anything electric and using pigions and the pony express to send any greetings to anyone. i hope you get some feed back on whatever you are blogging about. :) i must be blonde since i don't understand any of what you blogged about and could care less at this point what it is really about. sorry. if any of this doesn't help me in keeping things clean, cook, or understand men, kids, phone companies or people in general i don't care what they find anywhere. i hope i don't have to deal with anybody today. i am going to drown myself in music i think today and watch my 2 favorite soaps since they seem to have alot more problems than i do. :) love and prayers ps i think i feel better just commenting on your blog and blog land should thank me for not using anybodies blog to complain. :) can't wait to see you sat.

Kel said...

Oooh...I like the new look!