Abiogenesis - Conceptual History - "Primordial Soup" Hypothesis

"Primordial Soup" Hypothesis

Further information: Miller–Urey experiment

No new notable research or theory on the subject appeared until 1924, when Alexander Oparin reasoned that atmospheric oxygen prevents the synthesis of certain organic compounds that are necessary building blocks for the evolution of life. In his The Origin of Life, Oparin proposed that the "spontaneous generation of life" that had been attacked by Louis Pasteur did in fact occur once, but was now impossible because the conditions found on the early Earth had changed, and preexisting organisms would immediately consume any spontaneously generated organism. Oparin argued that a "primeval soup" of organic molecules could be created in an oxygenless atmosphere through the action of sunlight. These would combine in evermore complex ways until they formed coacervate droplets. These droplets would "grow" by fusion with other droplets, and "reproduce" through fission into daughter droplets, and so have a primitive metabolism in which those factors which promote "cell integrity" survive, and those that do not become extinct. Many modern theories of the origin of life still take Oparin's ideas as a starting point.

Around the same time, J. B. S. Haldane suggested that the Earth's prebiotic oceans—different from their modern counterparts—would have formed a "hot dilute soup" in which organic compounds could have formed. This idea was called biopoiesis or biopoesis, the process of living matter evolving from self-replicating but nonliving molecules.

In 1952, in the Miller–Urey experiment, a mixture of water, hydrogen, methane, and ammonia was cycled through an apparatus that delivered electrical sparks to the mixture. After one week, it was found that about 10% to 15% of the carbon in the system was now in the form of a racemic mixture of organic compounds, including amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.

The underlying hypothesis held by Oparin and Haldane was that conditions on the primeval Earth favored chemical reactions that synthesized organic compounds from inorganic precursors. A recent reanalysis of the saved vials containing the original extracts that resulted from the Miller and Urey experiments, using current and more advanced analytical equipment and technology, has uncovered more biochemicals than originally discovered in the 1950s. One of the more important findings was 23 amino acids, far more than the five originally discovered.

Read more about this topic:  Abiogenesis, Conceptual History

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