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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 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 Asetha on 12/14/2012 8:55:47 AM , Rating: 2
"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 ;).

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