With article titles like “Origin-of-life puzzle cracked” and “Origin of life: Primordial soup that cooks itself” this breakthrough is of major proportions. John Sutherland and his team at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have now shown that life began on Earth with a process that contained three simple ingredients: hydrogen cyanide (HCN), hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and ultraviolet light (UV).
Further, one common environment was sufficient to begin nucleic acid precursors as well as the starting materials for amino acids and lipids, the three main ingredients of life. This breakthrough will replace all other, more cumbersome and circuitous explanations of how life began.
The original Miller and Urey experiments and those of Butlerow and Oró were all conducted in environments that were mutually exclusive. These incompatible conditions make the explanations of how life began cumbersome and in many senses impossible. A single environment producing all three of the key elements necessary to begin life offers a much simpler explanation of the beginning of life.
There has always been controversy about the beginning of life. There have been those who believe that life began here as a direct result of conditions and ingredients that existed. Others have held the beliefs that life began as a result of ingredients arriving on meteors from outer space or as a result of the actions of a supernatural agent. This is mainly because past beginning-of-life experiments did not provide an understandable and simple enough environment and process to give a rational account of the development of life.
An article published in the March 24, 2015 issue of Nature Chemistry by Paul Bracher describes this dilemma very well. The author states, “The system relies on the sequential delivery of reagents such as hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide instead of addition of all of the components at the start. To address this limitation, the authors describe a model scenario in which rains hitting mineral deposits on early Earth may have sequestered reagents that are incompatible early in the synthesis in separate streams that merged later….The key advantage of the Sutherland system is that all of the soups for these families are prepared from the same broth, even if they must be minded by a cook or kept in separate pots.”
Again quoting from the Bracher article, “Taken together, these related studies from 2009 to 2015 demonstrate how the ultraviolet irradiation of an aqueous environment containing a limited set of simple feedstocks and catalysts can yield organic molecules easy to recognize as precursors to modern peptides, nucleic acids, and lipids.”
Scientists that believe RNA began the first life accomplished this breakthrough. They hold that RNA led to the development of DNA. This announced finding would seem to validate that assumption. John Sutherland has been an advocate of RNA.
These results once again affirm the basic assumptions of modern day science that life developed on this planet without the interference or assistance of other worldly phenomena or a supernatural being. It took roughly the first billion years of the planet’s existence for life to begin. This research shows that life began as a result of the right ingredients at the right time. If we assume this was one of millions of separate sets of circumstances that occurred in the first billion years, we should consider ourselves fortunate the circumstances eventually occurred.
Use the following links to get additional information or access the original studies that served as the basis of this article.