22 October 2008

De Rerum Originatione

Recent work has shown that the famous 1953 Miller-Urey experiment produced twenty-two amino acids, far more than originally thought (reports here, here and here).

Few, if any, other experiments using electricity to explore the origins and nature of life have yielded such striking results, and many have been way off. In 1836, for example (we were reminded by Pietro Corsi in a recent broadcast about vitalism), Andrew Crosse believed he had created living insects by 'electrocrystallization' [1].

The actual origins of life remain obscure, of course (see, for example, Was life forged in a quantum crucible? and Did life begin on a radioactive beach?). But the late Richard Southwood suggested five steps:
1. concentration of biologically important molecules (‘monomers’);

2. joining together of a series of monomers to form biological polymers (such as starch, collagen and cellulose);

3. formation of an outer membrane to provide a microenvironment where the special chemistry of life can occur;

4. development of a mechanism to provide energy; and

5. information transfer to permit cell replication.
Let Lazarus rejoice with Torpedo, who chills the life of the assailant through his staff.


[1] Corsi also said that Hans Berger believed that his electroencephalograph revealed where, via electricity, the soul entered the body - an idea going back in one form or other to at least Benjamin Franklin.

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