The origins of life - part two

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Very cool experiment made even cooler with some later research. From the BBC:
New spark in classic experiments
There's a new spark of life in iconic experiments first done in the 1950s, on the kind of primordial "soup" that may have predated life itself on Earth.

Ageing vials of chemicals have been discovered in a Californian lab, surviving samples from the legendary experiments performed by chemist Stanley Miller.

They hold evidence that life may have born violently, in erupting volcanoes in the midst of a thunderstorm.

Miller was just 22 years old and studying for his PhD when he carried out his original, groundbreaking experiments (under his University of Chicago mentor, Harold Urey).

He wanted to test the current ideas for the origin of life, by striking electric sparks in a mixture of gases thought to resemble the atmosphere of the young Earth.

When his analysis of the products in the experiments revealed traces of the building blocks of life, amino acids (which combine to make proteins), Stanley Miller became an instant celebrity - though the 1950s newspapers were overstating the case when they claimed he had actually recreated life in the lab.

When Stanley Miller died in May last year, his former student, Jeffrey Bada, inherited his materials; including, it turns out, several boxes containing vials of dried samples from those 1950s experiments, and the accompanying notebooks.
And the upshot:
"We started sorting through these, and lo and behold, we found a whole collection, almost a complete collection, of the extract samples from the volcanic experiments. And so we just went at it, using the state-of-the-art techniques we have today and analysed these samples.

"We found not only did these make more of certain amino acids than in the classic experiment, but they made a greater diversity of amino acids."

Miller, using the old methods, had found five amino acids; Jeffrey Bada and his teams tracked down 22. What is more, the overall chemical yields were often higher than in the first set of experiments - the mixture appeared to be more fertile.
Very cool -- using modern day chemical analysis, Bada found that Millers experiment worked even better than thought. Would have been nice if this had been done while Miller was still alive though -- a nice cap to one's career... Dr. Bada is a Professor of Marine Chemistry at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on October 18, 2008 10:14 AM.

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