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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 ingwe on 12/14/2012 1:55:01 PM , Rating: 3

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.

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