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Origin of Life: by Chance or by Design? Chris Macosko Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science University of Minnesota Biology G.B.Johnson and R.H.Raven, 1996 Biology Biggs et. al. Glencoe Pub. 2004. Chap 14.2 Heat Sunlight Electrical energy

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origin of life by chance or by design

Origin of Life:by Chance or by Design?

Chris Macosko

Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science

University of Minnesota



G.B.Johnson and

R.H.Raven, 1996

  • Biology
  • Biggs et. al.
  • Glencoe Pub. 2004.
  • Chap 14.2




Proteins and nucleic acids

Simple Cells

Biochemistry D. Voet & J.G. Voet Wiley 2004

chinese scientists searching for origin of life in space
Chinese Scientists Searching for Origin of Life in Space

"We have obtained some positive results," said Pei Chunchuan, chief scientist at the Qinghai Station of the Purple Mountain Observatory (PMO) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the top research body for natural sciences in the country.

The researchers have detected some minor organic molecular lines, which could indicate that life might exist in interstellar space.

Pei explained that if, for example, lines of organic molecules such as amino acids were found, the discovery could mean that stars carried some bigger organic molecules during their formation process. These organic molecules could directly evolve into life under suitable conditions," said Pei.

Peoples Daily (English) December 12, 2001

Molecules of aspartic acid with a left-handed orientation, shown in crystal form, could be the "ancestral Eve" of all amino acids -- the building blocks of proteins -- in life on Earth.

The Origin of Life and the Crystallization of Aspartic Acid in Water

Tu Lee* and Yu Kun Lin

Department of Chemical

and Materials Engineering,

National Central University,

Taiwan, R.O.C.

Cryst. Growth & Design 2010

fossils provide more evidence that ocean floor bore living beings
Fossils provide more evidence that ocean floor bore living beings

A crosscut of one of the 1.43 billion-year-old black smoker fossils of deep-sea microbes recovered from an exploratory mine in northern China. They provide more evidence that life began on the bottom of the ocean.

Timothy Kusky / Gondwana ResearchAugust 6, 2007

Deep-sea discovery reinforces origin of life



Spontaneous Origin of Life

Oparin, Haldane, 1930’s


Stanley Miller, 1953

Chemistry graduate student at University of Chicago


Adapted from

  • “A Production of Amino Acids under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions,” Stanley L. Miller, Science, Vol. 117, (May 15, 1953), pp. 528-529.


Spontaneous Origin of Life

Research into 1970’s supportive

Oparin, Haldane, 1930’s


First photograph ever taken from the surface of Mars.

Viking 1 Lander July 20, 1976.

Primary objectives of the Viking missions

- obtain high-resolution images of the Martian surface,

- characterize the atmosphere and surface

- search for evidence of life on Mars.



“…recent advances…have thrown serious doubts on the anoxic [oxygen free] model…”

—H. Clemmey and N. Badham

“Oxygen in the precambrian atmosphere: An evaluation of the geological evidence.”

Geology 10(3), 145 (March 1982).

“No geological or geochemical evidence collected in the last 30 years favors a strongly reducing primitive atmosphere…Only the success of the laboratory experiments recommends it.”

—R.A. Kerr

“Origin of life: new ingredients suggested.”

Science 210(4465), 42 (October 3, 1980).



Spontaneous Origin of Life

Oparin, Haldane, 1930’s


Can Random Reactions Produce a Protein?

Typical protein

N = 100-300

How many ways to arrange 100 amino acids,

5 of each type?

W= # arrangements =

10115 different peptides <105 useful for life


(1041)(1014 rearrange/s)(1017s) = 1072 polypeptides

age of Earth?

fastest chemical reaction

Can Random Reactions Produce a Protein?

How long will it take to create a particular polypeptide?


10115 possible structures


Do We Know Enough to Reconstruct Life In Vitro?

M.L. Shuler

Department of Biomedical Engineering

School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Cornell University

Ithaca, NY 14853

September 9, 2010

metabolic features of the minimal cell model
Metabolic Features of the Minimal Cell Model

External Medium (31 chemicals)

how to create a minimal cell model
How to Create a Minimal Cell Model

Proposed Reaction Rates

Si = species i

S = all species

p = all parameters

Ej = enzyme j

  • Computational Chromosome
  • Gil, et al. gene set (207 protein coding genes)
  • Removed “poorly characterized” genes
  • Added rRNA, tRNA, transporter genes
  • 241 genes total (102 single genes, 19 gene clusters)
  • smallest real cell = 454 genes
  • 600 nucleotides/gene
minimum model requires
Minimum Model Requires:

4 Compartments

241 Genes

408 Chemical Species

570 Reactions

1,176 Reaction Parameters

36 Events

and still could not survive in nature

temperature, no cell wall

must feed 31 chemicals

the enigma of the origin of life
The Enigma of the Origin of Life

“The largest stumbling block in bridging the gap between nonliving and living still remains. All living cells are controlled by information stored in DNA, which is transcribed in RNA and then made into protein.

This is a very complicated system, and each of these three molecules requires the other two--either to put it together or to help it work. DNA, for example, carries information but cannot put that information to use, or even copy itself without the help of RNA and protein.”

Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine, Biology: The Living Science (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall), 1998, p.406-407.


Did life arise on another planet?

Theory of Panspermia –

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe 1980’s


Father of 'Origin of Life’Chemistry Dies

May 21, 2007

…But despite the brilliant beginning, neither he nor others were able to take the next step, that of providing a plausible mechanism by which these chemicals could have been assembled into living cells or the macromolecules — DNA and proteins — on which cells depend. NY Times

Stanley Miller:

the chemical origin of life is a lot more difficult than we first imaged

National Geographic 1998


The world looks more complex to a scientist.

The world looks more beautiful to a scientist.

Science teaches humility.

This comes from an understanding

of what we do not know.

Belief in a Creator has energized the greatest scientists.

DNA to proteins http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dMlde9akBk

Mitosis http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFWelOJ7fW0

Antony Flew, a British philosophy professor and leading champion of atheism for more than half a century, changed his mind and became a deist at the age of 81.
  • He said it was a result of “my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists”
  • In an interview with ABC News Flew indicated that a "super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature."
did life begin by chance or by design
Did life begin by chance or by design?
  • Huge amount of information in the molecules of life
  • No naturalistic theory for origin of life
  • We know that intelligence can create molecules of life
  • Design is not an argument from ignorance
  • Is a “super intelligence the only good explanation for the origin of life (A. Flew)” ?

Questions for discussion

  • 1. Growing up, what were you taught about the origin of life?
  • This presentation argues that life could not have arise apart from some sort of design. What do you think about the reasons given?
  • Do you have any questions from this sharing?