‘Lost’ samples from famous origin of life researcher could send search for first life in new direction

Stanley Miller was new to us youngsters here at Deskarati, so watch out for our next post. We feel a mini-bio coming on – Deskarati –

Stanley Miller gained fame with his 1953 experiment showing the synthesis of organic compounds thought to be important in setting the origin of life in motion. Five years later, he produced samples from a similar experiment, shelved them and, as far as friends and colleagues know, never returned to them in his lifetime.

More 50 years later, Jeffrey Bada, Miller’s former student and a current Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego professor of marine chemistry, discovered the samples in Miller’s laboratory material and made a discovery that represents a potential breakthrough in the search for the processes that created Earth’s first life forms.

Former Scripps undergraduate student Eric Parker, Bada and colleagues report on their reanalysis of the samples in the March 21 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Miller’s 1958 experiment in which the gas hydrogen sulfide was added to a mix of gases believed to be present in the atmosphere of early Earth resulted in the synthesis of sulfur amino acids as well as other amino acids. The analysis by Bada’s lab using techniques not available to Miller suggests that a diversity of organic compounds existed on early planet Earth to an extent scientists had not previously realized.

“Much to our surprise the yield of amino acids is a lot richer than any experiment (Miller) had ever conducted,” said Bada.

Scripps Oceanography professor of Marine Chemistry Jeffrey Bada holds a preserved sample from a 1958 experiment done by “primordial soup” pioneer Stanley Miller. The residue in the sample contains amino acids created by the experiment. The samples had not undergone analysis until recently when Bada and colleagues discovered a wide range of amino acids using modern detection methods. Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

The new findings support the case that volcanoes — a major source of atmospheric hydrogen sulfide today — accompanied by lightning converted simple gases into a wide array of amino acids, which are were in turn available for assembly into early proteins.

Via 2011-03-lost-samples-famous-life

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One Response to ‘Lost’ samples from famous origin of life researcher could send search for first life in new direction

  1. alfy says:

    The names of Miller, Haldane and Oparin were well to the fore in the 1960s when Symposia on the origins of life were quite popular. One of the the most interesting postulates was that of the “cold flame” in estuarine mudbanks.
    Briefly, the theory suggested that simple organic molecules became concentrated in the silicate compounds of muds ans clays by a process of adsorption. The warmth of the sun on exposed mud helped to further concentrate the organic soup and raised the temperature and promoted further chemical reactions.
    These masses of organic matter began to replicate themselves by using various biochemical pathways, like converting H2S to elemental sulphur and utilising the energy released. Some of the forms utilised sun energy to split water and release oxygen.
    These mudbanks were not exactly “alive” in the usual sense of the word, but they certainly showed some of its properties, hence the term, “cold flame” to describe these proto-life forms.

    It is unlikely that they would have left any obvious kind of record because once more truly living organisms, like bacteria or fungi had arisen they would have rapidly consumed the cold flames as a valuable source of food.
    It is not certain that the “cold flame” theory was correct, but it does have the virtues of being based on perfectly sound and well-attested research, and it does not require any kind of extra-terrestrial agency to provide a kick-start.

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