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By looking at information stored in chemistry, says former NASA fellow, life from non-life can be explained

An outstanding question in the field of evolutionary biology and biochemistry is how the complex, fragile biochemicals that made up life arose and transformed biomaterial in the early Earth from non-living to the earliest "living" organisms.  Some researchers have looked for quasi-alive constructs like prions or viruses for clues.

But a new paper by Paul Davies, an Arizona State University Regents' Professor and director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, and Sara Walker, a NASA post-doctoral fellow at the Beyond Center, published in the journal Interface suggests that researchers are approaching the problem in the wrong way.

They suggest that rather looking at the "hardware" (biochemicals), they look at the "software" (chemically encoding information).  The authors suggest that the defining line between the living and non-living is the ability to manage encoded information, thus the key question is how this information handling arose.

Spark of Life
Could the clue to how life arose lie in how it encodes information?

Comments Prof. Walker, "When we describe biological processes we typically use informational narratives -- cells send out signals, developmental programs are run, coded instructions are read, genomic data are transmitted between generations and so forth.  So identifying life's origin in the way information is processed and managed can open up new avenues for research."

"Chemical based approaches have stalled at a very early stage of chemical complexity -- very far from anything we would consider 'alive.' More seriously they suffer from conceptual shortcomings in that they fail to distinguish between chemistry and biology."

"We propose that the transition from non-life to life is unique and definable," Prof. Davies adds, "We suggest that life may be characterized by its distinctive and active use of information, thus providing a roadmap to identify rigorous criteria for the emergence of life. This is in sharp contrast to a century of thought in which the transition to life has been cast as a problem of chemistry, with the goal of identifying a plausible reaction pathway from chemical mixtures to a living entity."

"To a physicist or chemist life seems like 'magic matter.  It behaves in extraordinary ways that are unmatched in any other complex physical or chemical system. Such lifelike properties include autonomy, adaptability and goal-oriented behavior -- the ability to harness chemical reactions to enact a pre-programmed agenda, rather than being a slave to those reactions."

"We believe the transition in the informational architecture of chemical networks is akin to a phase transition in physics, and we place special emphasis on the top-down information flow in which the system as a whole gains causal purchase over its components.  This approach will reveal how the logical organization of biological replicators differs crucially from trivial replication associated with crystals (non-life). By addressing the causal role of information directly, many of the baffling qualities of life are explained."

Crystals
Crystals are also self-replicating, but they lack the flexibility of life.
[Image Source:  Giovanni Dall'Orto]

If that all sounds a bit abstract, it is.

But basically it seems that the pair are arguing that by looking at differences between the self-replicating information in biochemicals (e.g. RNA) verus self-replication information in inorganic/non-living constructs (e.g. crystals), researchers may be able to retrace the process of how life arose on Earth more easily than if they merely focus on painstakingly mixing chemical constituents, hoping something arises.

Sources: Interface [via Arvix], Arizona State Univ.



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RE: Personally
By Nyu on 12/13/2012 6:44:14 PM , Rating: 2
I'm mostly an atheist, but I think it's not crazy to think the whole evolution was pre-programmed to happen in such a way. Whether there was or wasn't a "divine" intervention, we will always have the questions as to where and how everything began;

Even if we can trace back how life started and planets were created, there's never gonna be a final answer as to where the origin of the origin.. of the origin.. came from. Maybe the Big Bang created the universe, which in turn after a massive scale of events our planet was created and then life began from one chemical to another etc.. but then we would still have to ask what created the matter and put in place the events that triggered the Big Bang, what's "outside" the expanding universe, why the elements behave this or that way and basically every single physics law, it should all come from something, but then we also have to question what that "something" behind it also came from, etc.

So while I'm an atheist, I think it's absurd and un-scientific to completely discard the possibility that life and human evolution was pre-designed to transform into what we are today.


RE: Personally
By Kyuu on 12/13/2012 10:12:32 PM , Rating: 5
It has nothing to do with discarding the possibility due to faith or the lack thereof.

It has to do with the fact that there's no evidence that there is any such design. There is just the notion that "this sh*t is complex, therefore it must be designed". Which is Intelligent Design in a nut-shell.

You should probably learn what science is before calling something "un-scientific". Science doesn't mean entertaining any quack idea that has zero empirical basis just because.


RE: Personally
By Mitch101 on 12/13/2012 10:38:44 PM , Rating: 3
Carbon Based Lifeforms aka Us, Plants, Animals

Ferroplasma Microorganisms - Capable of living in sulfuric acid metabolizes iron-containing rock by the ton, to extract energy for its growth

Life in hydrothermal vents - Biologists always thought life required the Sun's energy, until they found an ecosystem that thrives in complete darkness.

To me if we solve one we can probably solve them all.

There is even thoughts that Silicon based life forms exist but that might just be a StarGate reference.


RE: Personally
By Asetha on 12/14/2012 8:55:47 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
"this sh*t is complex, therefore it must be designed"


That's not ID. ID is about Shannon information theory as it applies to DNA.


RE: Personally
By LRonaldHubbs on 12/14/2012 10:25:09 AM , Rating: 2
You're missing the point. ID centers on two big concepts: irreducible complexity and specific complexity. What you're referring to is specific complexity. Regardless, both of these concepts boil down to "this sh*t is complex, therefore it must be designed."


RE: Personally
By Asetha on 12/14/12, Rating: 0
RE: Personally
By LRonaldHubbs on 12/14/2012 12:38:03 PM , Rating: 3
First of all, this entire post of yours was an explanation of why DNA is too complex to occur naturally. In summary, "this sh*t is complex, therefore it must be designed." A different flavor of complex, sure, but still complexity is still the crux of your argument.

Secondly, you do realize that you're arguing for a concept which has been widely discredited by the scientific community, right? Specified complexity and irreducible complexity are two flavors of the same argument: "I can't disprove that this structure came about naturally, but it's so complicated it couldn't have." It's nothing more than a lazy hand-wave, dismissing all actual evidence and preventing any meaningful discussion of the subject at hand. ID as a whole is nothing more than religious zealots masquerading as scientists and constructing smoke and mirrors to create the illusion of a viable theory. Anyone who knows anything about science can see right through it.


RE: Personally
By Asetha on 12/14/2012 12:57:00 PM , Rating: 1
It's not the level of complexity ID post addresses, I thought that was clear in my post. Apologies. It's the type of complexity ID addresses. It's merely an assertion that 'X type of complexity we only see coming from one place - intelligence.'

The thing about the 'scientific community' is that science is not about consensus and never has been, as the whole 'consensus' about AGW proves. And what actual evidence for origin of life abiogenesis is there to dismiss? As far as I'm aware, there is none, but instead arguments about how it developed. No hard evidence, though. Miller and Urey's experiment was not representative of anything at all in earth's history.


RE: Personally
By Paj on 12/17/2012 8:36:09 AM , Rating: 3
There is global consensus about AGW. Unless youre in the USA.


RE: Personally
By gladiatorua on 12/14/2012 12:57:15 PM , Rating: 2
So DNA or RNA? And which proteins are you talking about?
And I'd read at least wikipedia's page about specified complexity. Including criticism.


RE: Personally
By Asetha on 12/14/2012 2:00:43 PM , Rating: 2
Never looked at Wiki's page for it. My post made clear both DNA/RNA are specifically complex. And as I didn't list any specific proteins, feel free to assume I meant all. Unless you can provide me an example one that contains non-functional information ;).


RE: Personally
By maugrimtr on 12/14/12, Rating: 0
RE: Personally
By JediJeb on 12/14/2012 11:19:06 AM , Rating: 5
quote:
Evolution + Big Bang + Quantum Physics + Relativity are Scientific Theories that can be proven, observed, and used to predict future outcomes .


The problem is those theories can not completely predict or explain past occurrences.

Whether you start with life and work back to chemistry, or start with chemistry and work forward to life, there is a bridge there that is not explainable.

Simple question that can not be explained chemically is what formed first, the cell membrane or the components of a cell nucleus? Also after single cell organisms formed, what caused them to form into multicell organisms? If a mat of single cells formed into the first multicell organism what made some cells form into skin, others form into livers cells, or nerve cells, or blood cells, ect?

The article talks about the encoding that makes life into life, but where did the encoding of information come from?

As for the Big Bang being a proven theory, there are now respectable physicists that are putting forth other explanations for the beginning of the universe because they can not use the Big Bang to completely and accurately describe the universe as it is. String Theory is being explored because Quantum Theory and Relativity do not co-exist well together, and Dark Matter and Dark Energy are being proposed because Relativity is not completely describing what we observe on galactic scales as far as gravity and mass are concerned. To place total confidence that current scientific theories accurately explain what the universe is may not be the best path to follow. Who is to say that in a thousand years scientist will not look back at what we believe now and laugh because our current theories will seem as silly compared to what they know as what science one thousand years ago seems to us now? If a discovery is made tomorrow that invalidates all of Relativity or Quantum theory I promise you that scientists will call that person an idiot just as Galileo and Copernicus were ridiculed when talking about a sun centered solar system. In 1750 the first thoughts that the Andromeda Galaxy was a separate galaxy was put forth and it was not until the 1920's that it became accepted as fact.

So many people think we now know 99% of the truth of how the universe works and was formed, I believe it is more like we know and understand about 1% of the truth of how the universe works and was formed.


RE: Personally
By gladiatorua on 12/14/2012 11:45:27 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
Simple question that can not be explained chemically is what formed first, the cell membrane or the components of a cell nucleus?
Cell membrane obviously. You know about eukariotes and prokariotes right? Prokariote does not have nucleus. Bacteria and archea are prokariotes.
quote:
Also after single cell organisms formed, what caused them to form into multicell organisms?
The fact they could AND it was beneficial to them? Have you ever heard about colonial organisms?
quote:
If a mat of single cells formed into the first multicell organism what made some cells form into skin, others form into livers cells, or nerve cells, or blood cells, ect?
First multicellular organisms didn't have blood, skin, liver or nervous system. The need to differentiate cells came much later. It's not like sexual reproduction with all the complex stuff was a thing from the beginning.
quote:
The article talks about the encoding that makes life into life, but where did the encoding of information come from?
Previous generations.
quote:
So many people think we now know 99% of the truth of how the universe works and was formed, I believe it is more like we know and understand about 1% of the truth of how the universe works and was formed.
Funnily enough, only {insert scripture of your choice}-humpers think they know 99% because it's all written in the {insert scripture of your choice}.
Good scientist know the limits of their knowledge. That's what makes them good and that's how they know where to push to expand those limits.


RE: Personally
By JediJeb on 12/14/2012 1:20:45 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The need to differentiate cells came much later.


What caused organisms to differentiate cells into the types needed? Did the first organism to have a bone begin with having just a single mutated bone cell that somehow didn't cause it to die and things just went from there? If it went from there, how did it come about to have multiple bones with joints instead of just one long bone?

quote:
Cell membrane obviously. You know about eukariotes and prokariotes right? Prokariote does not have nucleus. Bacteria and archea are prokariotes.


So there are organisms which only have a cell membrane with nothing inside that makes it alive? Sorry I am a chemist not a biologist, I just know that from a chemical standpoint that the structures of that complexity do not happen easily if at all.

quote:
Previous generations.


What gave encoding into the original generation?


RE: Personally
By gladiatorua on 12/16/2012 12:23:35 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
What caused organisms to differentiate cells into the types needed?
Once scientists figure out to some degree of certainty, how multicellular organisms evolved for each separate case(plants, animals etc) the matter might become clearer. For now there are hypotheses, like colonial organisms or symbiosis between two or more single-celled organisms or weired Siamese twins of single-celled organism etc. What I meant was, complex sell "predetermination" came much later, when organisms started to reproduce sexually from two fused cells growing into full organisms. Simpler organisms just split the part of their body with full array of cells needed for new organism, and those cells multiplied.
quote:
Did the first organism to have a bone begin with having just a single mutated bone cell that somehow didn't cause it to die and things just went from there? If it went from there, how did it come about to have multiple bones with joints instead of just one long bone?
First organisms didn't have bones. Look up chordates and their relationship to vertebrates.
The problem with pre-bone organisms is that they didn't have enough hard tissue to leave to fossilise.
quote:
So there are organisms which only have a cell membrane with nothing inside that makes it alive? Sorry I am a chemist not a biologist, I just know that from a chemical standpoint that the structures of that complexity do not happen easily if at all.
No. The don't have nucleus. They are structured slightly differently. Look up prokaryote.
quote:
What gave encoding into the original generation?
Original polypeptide of random amino-acids? Look at evolutionofdna.com


RE: Personally
By lilhammer10 on 12/14/2012 3:17:31 PM , Rating: 1
Yes, we all understand how Empirical Evidence worshipers like you and "good" scientists view the world. You stare at the world around you and think "Holy cr@p! I wonder how all of these bazillions of atoms and the elements they compose magically came together in a perfect mix and evolved over millions of years, after millions of chance mutations to form something so complex!" While I shout "Hey dumb@ss! It's a Samsung and it dries your clothes!"

You strain to view the microscopic world under glass to build your little, un-provable theories and wet dreams you call science that you change every other day to suit the scenario. You like to pleasure yourself to the sound of your own voice and thoughts while every fiber of your very being just wants to vomit you out of itself if it only could. You are the definition of retarded. You see the world around you and witness the truth but couldn't grasp it if your life depended on it. Your prefer snake-oil to the simple truth and the stench of treacherous lies compared to honesty.

Oh yes, and I get that you simply like to inflame others.


RE: Personally
By Asetha on 12/15/2012 1:03:31 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Previous generations.


Question begging.


RE: Personally
By Ammohunt on 12/14/2012 11:31:10 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
Evolution + Big Bang + Quantum Physics + Relativity are Scientific Theories that can be proven, observed, and used to predict future outcomes.


Its interesting to me that such concrete firm beliefs in theory are not considered or describe as religion in our society.


RE: Personally
By JediJeb on 12/14/2012 5:55:27 PM , Rating: 1
It takes faith to believe in a theory or rather what a theory postulates such as the origin of the universe, yet those who hold such things as ultimate truth also tend to deny that they have any faith at all.


RE: Personally
By ingwe on 12/14/2012 1:55:01 PM , Rating: 3
quote:

Evolution + Big Bang + Quantum Physics + Relativity are Scientific Theories that can be proven, observed, and used to predict future outcomes.

Intelligent Design is a Belief. It explains nothing. It predicts nothing. It can't be proven. It can't even be observed (complexity exists but its existence means nothing by itself!). It has no mathematical laws or principles. It is simply not science.

By comparison, we know for a fact that Evolution occurred. You can walk into any natural history museum and touch fossils. We can even see it occur in real time.

As Stephen Hawking said, and was immediately damned for, the Universe does not need God. It's a self regulating, self sustaining bubble of space and energy. Anything beyond our Universe is meaningless because we could never observe it.


I am not quite sure where you got some of these ideas. Science is about two key ingredients: observation and theory. What you have listed, Evolution, The Big Bang, and Relativity are (as you correctly stated) theories. Anisotropies in the Cosmic Microwave Background, gravitational lensing, and red shifting are examples of observables. Understanding this is important because you CANNOT PROVE a theory. You can only disprove a theory. A theory is our best idea of how observations fit together. Observations are used to corroborate or invalidate theories. This is the very basis of science. To say that we know theories are true is totally antithetical to science. Science talks not in definites, but in likelihoods.

What I said above is what I believe the general consensus of the scientific community is. The following is more personal opinion: Theories without any observables are practically religion. You can believe them or not based on what you think is logical. Yes, String Theory has a lot of beautiful math, if it fails to make predictions that are observable it should not be generally accepted. People who do so are making a decision based purely on what they feel is correct and want to believe, hence my comparison with religion. In a related vein, people can think whatever they want to about the origin of things. We can observe nothing from before the surface of last scattering (~380,000 yrs after the big bang by estimates, but that is just a theory). As such we can make almost no observations about anything before then and thus anything before that is mostly conjecture and is therefore mostly outside of the realm of science. Instead it is a question for philosophy and religion. Again this is only my opinion.

A note of qualification: I have a degree in Astrophysics for whatever that means here. Probably not much...


RE: Personally
By Ammohunt on 12/14/2012 3:48:43 PM , Rating: 1
Because of the human condition your observations are unique to you. You can't "prove" others observations are the same as yours since you can't perceive through others senses. Sure you can get consensus from others that their observation are similar however again they are a collection of unique observations rather than single proof. Otherwise 20 respected people on an acid trip could prove purple elephants are real.On that same note you cannot disprove anyone's individual observations for the same reasons above.


RE: Personally
By Gondor on 12/14/2012 8:45:45 AM , Rating: 4
Unless something drastically changes (in our ability to access information above the speed of light in vacuum, c) all of this is pretty much irrelevant - there's only "so far" you can go back with the origin of origin of ....origin of universe, before it stops making any sense whatsoever and/or even moves outside "our" universe, the limit of which we are unable to pass, and which is moving away at speed of c.

So for what it's worth, our universe could have been pre-programmed, however if programmer is sitting outside the universe we'll never be able to meet him so it makes absolutely no sense to waste time contemplating what's beyond the edge - let's focus on stuff inside first.

All this being said, I firmly believe the universe we're residing in is just a coincidence; it could easily have turned out some other way (with no humans on some obscure planet trying to come up with a witty explanation of its existence). I wouldn't find it too difficult to believe it has gone through the bang-expansion-contraction-boom cycle numerous times already, with races far smarter and species much dumber and worlds much more barren or thriving in its past cycles.


RE: Personally
By Ammohunt on 12/14/2012 11:56:45 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
So for what it's worth, our universe could have been pre-programmed, however if programmer is sitting outside the universe we'll never be able to meet him so it makes absolutely no sense to waste time contemplating what's beyond the edge - let's focus on stuff inside first.


That's all fine and nice but first we need to ask ourselves just what are we trying to explain and to what ends? Personally after having lived half my life already i haven't seen any tangible benefits from such knowledge; don't get me wrong its a cool topic but it ultimately its not empowering knowledge; man has done just fine as a species without it.


RE: Personally
By snakeInTheGrass on 12/17/2012 12:38:04 PM , Rating: 2
That there are cycles is possible, though coincidence? Hmmm... Even to have coincidence...

What I really find troubling is that it can't exist conceptually, at least the way our understanding of things goes. I mean, whether there is an "eternal" universe, multiverses, cycles, or whatever - how? Just to have a framework within which anything can even happen at all... WTF?

(And I dropped some commentary on the 'let's add another layer to something we can't understand' nature of putting a deity as a pat answer instead... though I guess it's more comforting to many than looking at the world and concluding that its very existence is disturbing. Doesn't explain how there can be a deity either... ;) )

Our meat processing units may just not be up to the task. But hey, maybe the AI's that will eventually destroy us will be able to figure it out. ;)


RE: Personally
By mlambert890 on 12/15/2012 12:41:47 AM , Rating: 2
Why do you repeatedly claim to be an atheist and then provide clear proof that you're not in what you say? Do you *want* to be an atheist or something?

By definition feeling that there *must* be a "first cause uncaused" is the antithesis of what an atheist is. A (not) theist (believer in "god") A "first cause uncaused" is god by another name.

At least call yourself an agnostic or something (one who just rejects traditional organized religion)

You're *not* an atheist.

And there is nothing, btw, "unscientific" about what you describe. Science is methodical observation followed by theory and testing. There is no "guessing" about what "might be". There is observation. There is theory. There is testing. Science completely allows for the concept that there are simply things that just "are". Like perhaps the fundamental particles that allow for the creation of matter simply always just "have been". Science would be ok with this if there were no observable reason to doubt it and the *model worked*

It is *faith* and human emotion that isnt ok with this. That *needs* a "but WHO or WHAT created THAT!?" type question answered. If anything is "unscientific" it is asking questions like that in the absence of an observed reason to.

An example is that science has sought a description for the "component parts" of matter diving down to subatomic particles and then elementary particles, but if it seems that elementary particles are "as small as it gets", and there is nothing "not working" in the model or being observed that suggests *smaller* component particles, then elementary particles would be considered foundational. It's "faith based" thinking to say "but there's GOTTA be SOMETHING smaller!"


RE: Personally
By JediJeb on 12/16/2012 10:12:15 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Science completely allows for the concept that there are simply things that just "are". Like perhaps the fundamental particles that allow for the creation of matter simply always just "have been".


But without faith in the scientific process you would have to question these things. Religion or Science, both require faith at some point, at least until everything can be completely explained, but then I guess you would still have to have faith that the explanation was true.


RE: Personally
By tng on 12/17/2012 1:38:32 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
...elementary particles would be considered foundational. It's "faith based" thinking to say "but there's GOTTA be SOMETHING smaller!"
No it is not "Faith" based thinking. The drive to find out more about such things is the underpinnings for scientific study. When everybody says that we know all there is to know about a certain subject, it is almost a duty of science to find more!

If everybody operated as you describe we would still be in the dark ages...


RE: Personally
By tng on 12/17/2012 12:36:05 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
...I think it's not crazy to think the whole evolution was pre-programmed to happen... Maybe the Big Bang created the universe...
So somewhere out there there is a scientist bent over a bunch of test samples, one of those samples contains our universe and he is involved in a study of how life begins....


"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard














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