How Life Really Began
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How Life Really BeganConditions on Earth were much different four billion years ago. There was almost no oxygen in the atmosphere; it was hotter; and there was a lot of lightning and volcanic activity.

In this primordial environment, amino acids formed – a fundamental component for life to have developed on earth. 

But one question scientists have been asking is how these molecules came to be? Did they just spontaneously assemble?  A pair of scientists believed that’s what happened and in the 1950s created conditions similar to early Earth to test their theory. 

Stanley Miller and Harold Urey injected various gases including methane, hydrogen, and ammonia into an experimental apparatus containing warm water. They used electrical discharges to simulate lightening, and a condenser allowed water and other molecules to rain back into the mini ocean.

Over the next few days the clear water turned an opaque brown color. Amazingly, they detected organic compounds, including amino acids, precursors to proteins which are essential building blocks of life.

Recently, Scientists made a surprising discovery. They found archived samples from a later experiment done by the same group. But for some reason, the samples where never processed.

This experiment, done several years after the original, included additional gases, like hydrogen sulfide, that more closely model a region with volcanic activity.  

The archived samples were recently processed using today’s advanced technology and researchers found an even more diverse distribution of amino acids than Miller’s previous experiments. In these studies, it certainly appears that pre-biotic molecules could be formed from early Earth’s basic components.

Some scientists are skeptical whether these lab created conditions actually mirror the primordial Earth. Yet the studies contribute to our understanding of the origins of life which continue to be fascinating and an important field of study.


For more information…

A production of amino acids under possible primitive earth conditions
Original report by Stanley Miller showing the production of organic compounds starting from inorganic components.

The origins of life
Thoughtful article on the origins of life by a leading biologist of his time, George Wald from Harvard University.

Organic compound synthesis on the primitive Earth
Stanley Miller's and Harold Urey's original article that started it all.