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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 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
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
...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...

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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