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    Speculations About Early Life
    By Gerhard Adam | October 12th 2012 08:00 AM | 39 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Disclaimer:  This blog post is composed of speculative ideas and any resemblance to actual scientific findings is purely coincidental.  

    The beginning of this speculation is oriented around early life forms, not the origin of life, but rather how simple primitive cells may have begun to evolve.

    Therefore one of the initial assumptions is that primitive cells existing during this early period were fundamentally unique.  Reproduction was not yet part of the dynamic, and these "cells" were little more than primitive chemical factories, capitalizing on their environment.

    One of the first questions to surface is why reproduction would have evolved at all.

    If we imagine that these early life forms were simply moving around, acquiring resources from their environment, there is no apparent reason why reproducing should be necessary or even desirable.  After all, producing offspring would simply increase the level of competition for the original organism.  The downside, of course, is that any organism that died would have no future representation.  However, it's not immediately apparent why this should be a concern.  It would simply be a slightly different form of extinction, but there's no reason to presume that such primitive cells were anything but immortal, for all practical purposes.

    From this we can readily speculate that all manner of possible lifeforms existed, since any conceivable configuration might be successful within this context.

    So, the issue of reproduction becomes an important consideration because there doesn't appear to be any benefit to an organism in doing so.  As already mentioned, it simply increases competition for the same resources, and consumes more energy on the part of the organism to achieve.  After all, if all the resources one needs are readily available, then why not simply float about [or whatever it is that they did] and keep everything for yourself?

    My own speculation suggests that the first act of reproduction was largely an accident.  Perhaps a cell broke or divided in some uncontrolled fashion, but managed to retain a sufficient amount of its internal chemistry to be relatively evenly split.

    It is entirely conceivable to imagine that such early offspring may well have served as food, but perhaps there were enough free resources to where such predation wasn't even a part of the landscape yet.

    At this point, by increasing the level of competition, it also increased the competition for resources to all other organisms in the vicinity.  As a result, even without any sense of cooperating, this would invariably create a minimally two against one dynamic for any organism encountered.

    From this it is conceivable that there may have been one or more organisms that had a greater propensity for such splits, which would invariably out-compete organisms that didn't reproduce.  However, it would also be expected during these early stages that reproduction was a quite haphazard affair.

    Perhaps it was this kind of situation that gave rise to chemically recording the constituents that made up the organism, so that a copy of that information could be provided to the newly divided half.  This could have been an early precursor to RNA/DNA.  In other words, the role of RNA/DNA would have been to record what had worked in the past, and use those structures to maintain that "information" into future generations.  The means of passing this information might have been an early version of Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT).

    At this point, all new organisms would have the "knowledge" of their shared history and could avoid the riskiness of having to discover things for themselves.

    Of course, once we have multiple organisms produced by division, it becomes easier to see how various sensory organs might arise to identify each other, so as to avoid wasting energy in pursuing related organisms as food.  Obviously such basic recognition is a precondition to avoid undoing everything gained by reproducing.

    Similarly if there was some method by which information could be recorded in a form like RNA [which perhaps was little more than a captured virus], then the groundwork would be laid for the evolutionary trajectory that would produce all other lifeforms.

    NOTE:  Obviously there would be no viruses that represented RNA/DNA configurations, so the use here is rather gratuitous and refers to any long-stranded molecule that might be exploited to more specific purposes.

    Science supports the idea that many of our microbial ancestors also exploited others in either symbiotic or commensal relationships, thereby hastening the development of complex organizations and operations that might be prohibitive if they were dependent solely on evolutionary processes.  So the capture of bacteria to become mitochondria, or the creation of a membrane around the DNA become various mechanisms employed to segregate the cellular processes and refine the overall behavior producing a more sophisticated means of survival.  In short, each new development requires increased complexity and capability because of the high success of predecessors.  In other words, to be able to compete with the organisms already present, then newer, more specialized complex organisms would have to evolve to capitalize on those niches that weren't already occupied, or to be better competitors in those niches that had occupants.

    In any case, from this point on it becomes easier to see how life may have followed various forms that we're already quite familiar with, so this becomes less speculative.

    However, just for the fun of it, it is interesting to consider what events may have occurred to cause organisms to take that first step towards reproduction.  After all, without reproduction there is no need to convey information into the future, so RNA/DNA are irrelevant until that fundamental question is answered.

    Anyway ... I'm hoping others may have some interesting speculations about this issue.

    ===================================

    For an interesting review of life's origins:
    http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/~meech/a281/handouts/Deamer_astrobio02.pdf

    Comments

    Hi Gerhard,
    Nice to have a physicist speculate about life. It occured to me, for instance, that regarding extraterrestial life, physicists are much more optimistic than biologists. Physicists are blinded by powers of ten, there's so much planets, there must be another earth. They forget that only to get a set of 20 amino acids out of 64 codons surpasses their astronomical numbers.
    Now, to introduce you a little bit more into biology, please note that your intrduction of virus is quite precocious. Virus most probably is stray RNA/DNA. Where would you let it come from?
    You started allright with the membrane.
    Wish Carl Woese was here to set us straight.

    Gerhard Adam
    My suggestion about viruses was only that if there were already a long-strand molecule around [i.e. not conveying any particular information], then perhaps if it was absorbed or taken in by the bacteria it could be exploited to hold information.

    In other words, they wouldn't actually have been viruses in our modern sense.

    I've gone back and added a comment to that effect.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    This seems upside down. You assume a limited concept of "reproduction" (perhaps demanding division inside its definition), one that is very animal-biology centered and fails for more general kinds of evolution, which is fatal if you talk about early life (because it needs considering pre-biological evolution). A prion refolding another molecule would be not reproduction in your definition, and I think such impoverished concepts blind you toward how life evolved. There have been no systems that can be seen as "primitive chemical factories, capitalizing on their environment", for who "reproduction" then somehow starts almost by accident, simply because "factories" and "capitalizing" are all about reproduction, at least of the molecules that are produced - so relative to them you already have almost a whole society (their factories), yet you still do not talk about "reproduction". That seems very wrong. The fact that there are any sort of systems more numerous so that it is interesting to talk about them at all is another way of stating that they are naturally selected to appear numerously, and that is their way of "reproducing". Whether some of the information that is involved in rendering them numerous ("reproduce") is according to some sort of criterium more inside a visible boundary of the system, or simply the system itself (e.g. shape of prion), or outside of it, that should not be the criterium for reproduction, or if you think so, you should probably write a whole post only on how you exactly define reproduction.
    Gerhard Adam
    Yes, I was assuming basic cells and taking a very much animal-oriented approach.  I wasn't really thinking in terms of overall evolution towards life, as much as just considering that short interval when primitive life existed, but prior to moving down that path towards reproduction as we currently know it to occur.

    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    But this makes "Speculations About Early Life" a rather cute-animal centered definition of "life", disregarding the "social life" of molecules interacting in the early "factories". Again, "reproduction as we currently know it to occur" is thus a very limited concept of "reproduction" that is not applicable to evolution of social systems as we currently know it to occur (!). My worry is the same as the last times I complained: This restriction to cute-animal biological evolution without explicitly telling the reader so (as if that is all there is to evolution and that is the current state of science) implicitly makes the most important part of evolution misunderstood. In fact, your writing "that short interval when primitive life existed" as if life and reproduction are independent sounds almost anti-Darwinian. I know that is not what you want, but I feel it needs to be stressed much more that life via evolution is precisely nothing else but the mathematics of getting numerous (natural selection, statistical ensembles). I wrote above that you represent evolution upside down. What I mean is that "reproduction" comes causally before "life", or in yet more inciting words, having "life" causally before "reproduction" is claiming "life" without evolution!
    Gerhard Adam
    You always have to make my life more difficult. :)

    I suspect that the differences here are more a matter of scope, rather than specific incidence.  In other words, I'm looking at a more specific "snapshot" of a moment in evolution where what we call "life" would exist, and then speculating about the transition that might have occurred in rendering it capable of reproduction in a purely biological sense.

    If I understand you correctly, you are referring to a more general case of evolution where everything is in a state of perpetual change with each particular event leading to others, etc.  From this then obviously life becomes merely one more aspect of this continuous spectrum of evolution.

    However, at any given point, we can consider the case of a "first-time event" as being one without evolution, because clearly evolution describes change from some predecessor event.  So, in the absolute sense, then life evolved from non-life and could therefore be considered as a result of "reproduction" from earlier systems.

    As I said, my view is more constrained by only examining a particular moment in time where the earliest type of organisms would exist that could arguably be called "life", but before any mechanisms had developed whereby they could be "selected".  Now certainly one could argue that even if there were a million unique organisms, then a type of selection was already at work in sifting through successful versus less successful configurations and this would also be true.

    What's missing though is the building on predecessors.  With a million unique organisms, then their existence and survival would convey nothing into the future.  It is only with the advent of some mechanism within the biological organism that would give rise to the animal/plant reproduction we see in biology today.

    You're right, that it's a very narrow focus, and perhaps it isn't even the most interesting aspect of the total evolutionary picture, but I was just offering some speculation and not particularly advancing a significant argument. 

    Leave it to you to make me have to think harder ... :)
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thor Russell
    Where you say:"I'm looking at a more specific "snapshot" of a moment in evolution where what we call "life" would exist, and then speculating about the transition that might have occurred in rendering it capable of reproduction in a purely biological sense."


    I am not convinced that such a snapshot would necessarily exist. You could have something looking a lot like replication occurring long before the system was alive. For example vesicles/lipid bilayer in a hydrothermal vent cycling between different environmental conditions (hot and cold).  You could have a situation where the vesicles grow by acquiring more material, then split, then grow again with such a system clearly not being alive. This process could then change to become more lifelike but with a replication like process always being there from the start. There would be an evolution like process also from the start if certain chemistries were better at scavenging raw materials to make the bilayers, they would spread through the population. I can't immediately see how a cell with complete-ish machinery but not inbuilt reproduction would arise, but I can speculate and imagine the other situation.
    ( I think this may similar to what Sascha is saying, but less "next level")

    Thor Russell
    Gerhard Adam
    This process could then change to become more lifelike but with a replication like process always being there from the start.
    Perhaps we should change the terminology a little bit and simply refer to a process whereby more of something are capable of being produced, and keep terms like "replication" or "reproduction" within the domain of something that is doing the producing [i.e. transfer of information into the future].

    This is why I suggested that such "reproduction" may have been a more haphazard affair, but my point is ultimately that at some level, we would have something that we would recognize as being a cell.  Perhaps in a manner similar to budding off structures, this would be more akin to the kind of growth or "reproduction" one might see with bubbles or crystals.

    So, my point about a "snapshot" is to envision that moment when we would have a cell, but without any of the internal mechanisms that are specifically geared to passing information to future generations.  Clearly it makes no sense to have an information conveying process and no concept of what it would get passed to, so it seems that the replication process must occur first.
    I can't immediately see how a cell with complete-ish machinery but not inbuilt reproduction would arise
    Well, I suppose I'm proposing something in between the completely non-life chemical processes and the full-blown life we associate with prokaryotes.  In this case, they could be completely identical without having the means of conveying the information through RNA/DNA. 

    I'm further assuming that such structures might have occurred in numerous different configurations for which we might well arguably dispute whether they are truly "alive".  However, at some point, the process acquired an orderliness that allowed a predictability to that reproductive process.   Two things had to occur.  One was an approximately even division of the cell and its materials [being able to accumulate enough so that a division would retain viability for both], and ultimately the ability to convey the necessary information so that the newly divided call would "know" what worked in the past and have the necessary configuration to be able to repeat the process. 

    Again, the point of evolution is to be able to build on past successes, yet we have to consider that at some point in the entire process there must be some specific time [or snapshot] where there was no previous success.  A transition occurred from which there would be no going back [and still be alive].  There is clearly a threshold [regardless of how poorly defined] between alive and not alive, so regardless of how non-living processes gave rise to life, there is that particular point that would qualify as a "snapshot" [even if I can't tell you specifically what it would have looked like].
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Sorry if this is a bit off track but while reading your comment I started wondering if it was possible to hypothetically 'kill' a single celled organism like an amoeba for example, so that it showed no sign of any 'life' functions at all, for a significant period of time, like 24 hours for example and then to revive it somehow, maybe with an electrical shock or stimulating chemicals maybe and I also wondered if anyone has ever done that? Because even when you have all the components of life together in one dead cell its not 'alive' so what could trigger those componenets to become alive or in this case to be resurrected? Also I suppose the definition of what makes a single cell creature alive or dead would be very important here. Even when an amoeba had 'died' there would still be chemical reactions taking place in its decomposing body wouldn't there, but that wouldn't make it alive or would it?
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, there is a fundamental difficulty in where one draws that line.  However, most single-celled organisms are remarkably resilient, so defining "death" for them is a problem since the only way to be sure is to disrupt the integrity of the cell itself.

    This is precisely why Craig Venter's synthetic life presents an interesting perspective on the issue.  It's probably as close to the scenario you're describing as we've ever gotten.  Certainly single-celled organisms often have other mechanisms [i.e. spores]by which they can "suspend" their lives and "re-animate" under better circumstances.  There have been claims that such spores have remained viable, in some cases, for millions of years.

    So, to the best of my knowledge, cell death requires that the fundamental integrity of the cell itself, or its chemical components becomes compromised so that it can no longer function.  As a result, in such cases, there would be nothing to "re-animate'.

    In "higher" life forms, death is a bit more of a nebulous definition and usually involves identifying one or more critical systems that have ceased functioning.  So, when a human dies, that doesn't mean that every cell has simultaneously died.  It simply means that the integrity of the organism no longer has operating systems, so each will begin to fail with the individual cells eventually dying off.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    This is precisely why Craig Venter's synthetic life presents an interesting perspective on the issue.  It's probably as close to the scenario you're describing as we've ever gotten.
    Wow, that's amazing, thanks for the link.
    Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a not-for-profit genomic research organization, published results today describing the successful construction of the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell. The team synthesized the 1.08 million base pair chromosome of a modified Mycoplasma mycoides genome. The synthetic cell is called Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 and is the proof of principle that genomes can be designed in the computer, chemically made in the laboratory and transplanted into a recipient cell to produce a new self-replicating cell controlled only by the synthetic genome.
    I am amazed by this scientific breakthrough though I suppose that as they needed a live cell to transplant their synthetic genomes into they are still nowhere near to creating life. They say that :-
    "We can now begin working on our ultimate objective of synthesizing a minimal cell containing only the genes necessary to sustain life in its simplest form. This will help us better understand how cells work."
    I also found it very interesting that they designed and inserted into the genome what they called 'watermarks' but will all scientists working in this field be so ethical? The watermarks are :-
    specifically designed segments of DNA that use the "alphabet" of genes and proteins that enable the researcher to spell out words and phrases. The watermarks are an essential means to prove that the genome is synthetic and not native, and to identify the laboratory of origin. Encoded in the watermarks is a new DNA code for writing words, sentences and numbers. In addition to the new code there is a web address to send emails to if you can successfully decode the new code, the names of 46 authors and other key contributors and three quotations: "TO LIVE, TO ERR, TO FALL, TO TRIUMPH, TO RECREATE LIFE OUT OF LIFE." - JAMES JOYCE; "SEE THINGS NOT AS THEY ARE, BUT AS THEY MIGHT BE."-A quote from the book, "American Prometheus"; "WHAT I CANNOT BUILD, I CANNOT UNDERSTAND." - RICHARD FEYNMAN.
    I'm not sure I agree that these are necessarily the best quotes to have been included in the watermarks of the synthetic cells. What do you think?
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Steve Davis
    Interesting subject Gerhard.
    "What I mean is that "reproduction" comes causally before "life", or in yet more inciting words, having "life" causally before "reproduction" is claiming "life" without evolution!" I think Sascha needs to explain that in more detail. Because clearly an entity can come into existence, and live, without reproducing or evolving.
    Thor Russell
    Really how, Just by popping into existence out of nothing? A process where something like reproduction comes first seems to make it much easier for such an entity to occur.
    Thor Russell
    Steve Davis
    Reproduction prior to life?
    You are kidding, aren't you?
    Thor Russell
    You don't seem to have read my previous comment. Empty vesicles growing and splitting aren't life but are reproducing of a sort.
    Thor Russell
    Gerhard Adam
    Empty vesicles growing and splitting aren't life but are reproducing of a sort.
    Well, that gets into how one defines life and what you mean by "empty".  If I remove the DNA from a prokaryote, is it "empty"?  If not, then is it alive?  Is a virus alive?  I agree, that these are difficult if not impossible questions to answer regarding where we draw that particular line.  My only point is that wherever we draw that line, there will be a point at which something is considered alive and yet unable to direct its own replication.  Whereas in our current biological sense, life does direct its own replication.  Therefore there is a fundamental difference that has occurred at some point in our past.

    Therefore, the difference between your non-living empty vesicles replicating is no more significant than the growth attributed to crystals.  Similarly we might argue that the same process that directs crystals to grow is ultimately what life "exploits".  However, unless we are prepared to acknowledge that there is a difference between life and non-life, we are in an endless regress [sorry Sascha] about the significance of any particular process whether one wants to call it a chemical reaction or metabolism, or whether one calls it replication or reproduction.  What is homeostasis except the ability to maintain a kind of chemical equilibrium?  Clearly these processes occur in living as well as non-living systems, yet we separate the two at some point. 

    So, where do you wish to draw that line?

    In short, if you're willing to consider that non-living systems reproduce and can be considered as precursors to biological reproduction, then the question remains [in a slightly different context], which is ... why the need to pass information on in the form of RNA/DNA?  If reproduction was already viable without information, then what drove the need for informed reproduction?
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    However, unless we are prepared to acknowledge that there is a difference between life and non-life, we are in an endless regress [sorry Sascha]
    ?
    I do not discuss about mere words like "life", which you can define as you like, as long as you make the definitions explicit. Problematic is the use of implicit definitions (e.g. "reproduction") that perpetuate an effectively anti-evolutionary "evolution = biological evolution = cute animals" position. That position, and it is a widespread one among skeptics and for example here on Science2.0 (Hank defends that the Science2.0 evolution section is strictly about biology) is central to the problem of people not accepting the beginning of "life" as being due to evolution. It supports ID claiming that the beginning of life cannot be explained by reductionist science.
    Gerhard Adam
    Yes, my comment ["sorry, Sascha"] was simply because of using the word "regress" since that appears in so many of your posts, that I felt like I was almost hijacking it.  :)

    You're absolutely right regarding the continuum of evolution in which life is merely one branch of the continuous level of changes occurring.  I have no quarrel with that, and agree completely that when viewed, in toto, that it is an essential element to understanding the origin of life as something that is not a separate and discrete act.

    However, if I use reductionist science, then would I not be permitted to also slice out a small segment of time to examine one aspect of that evolutionary process?  Not to argue that it is separate from the continuum that preceded it, nor that which follows, but merely to consider how one such aspect occurred?

    Perhaps you're right and my use of the word reproduction carries too much baggage and implies something separate when it shouldn't.  I can accept that.  I certainly don't mean to imply that life is somehow separate from the processes that preceded it.  Clearly we have an understanding of what we mean by life in a biological sense today, and we have a clear understanding of what we assume is non-life.

    Maybe there is no valid definition in trying to explain that transition.  Perhaps it's like a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, where asking the question of when it becomes a butterfly or when it ceases to be a caterpillar are simply meaningless questions and meaningless lines of separation.

    Personally I happen to think that some of the comments are great, considering that this blog was simply some idle speculation on my part and frankly, I didn't expect to get this many great and thought-provoking comments.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, my comment ["sorry, Sascha"] was simply because of using the word "regress" since that appears in so many of your posts, that I felt like I was almost hijacking it. :)
    Know the feeling. Round here the word "totally" is overused to the point where it might be mistaken for self-parody. Unfortunately the locals talk a language almost entirely without consonants. For example, "I am, like totally, late!" is vocalized as: "Arm lar tow uh lee lay".

    Of course after such a filletting, the word "totally" becomes vitually indistinguishable from "totality". I find myself surrounded by people discussing Sascha's incomprehensible ideas on the 'bus, on the train, shouting down their mobiles and bellowing at each other across the office. It is tow uh lee confusing.
    Thor Russell
    I'm not sure why nonlife -> life can't be a continuous process without a clear boundary. After all there is no point where one species becomes two. If passing on information makes reproduction more viable then surely that makes sense? It would be selected for. The mechanism by which this first happened I am not sure of, but it probably would be a lot simpler than RNA. 
    This leads to when the concept of "information" rather than just chemistry became important. When does it make sense to think of a chemical structure as being some "information" rather than just all  structure?
    Genetic material affects many other chemical processes, is catalytic, and will cause different chemical processes depending on the circumstances. Small changes in DNA have big effects on the organism not because they affect the macro physical structure of it, but because they affect later reactions. This is definitely "information like". It would seem there needs to be a process where building blocks or just random chemicals inside the cell gradually take on that role. Chemicals that catalyse other reactions to preserve the environment inside the cell could be a starting point. If there were dozens of these, each one  would be dormant most of the time, but act when "needed" to stabilize the environment inside the cell. They seem a bit more like genetic material or "information" now perhaps. Cells with more of these catalytic chemicals will outcompete ones without as they will not break up when the environment changes a little. Also if this goes on for a while, with different cells having different useful chemicals, then cells that have "leaky" membranes could benefit by absorbing the catalysts from other cells (that have broken up). Some primitive kind of HGT. Catalysts that can survive in the outside environment for a while will also be selected for in this process. (Such catalysts could also be thought of as beneficial viruses)

    When does selection become valid as a concept needs to be considered I think. I suppose when it can make some useful prediction/insight easier than just chemistry alone could give. This would start when something is much more like what we would normally call non-life than life I expect.


    A few things to consider definitely.
    Thor Russell
    Steve Davis
    "I'm not sure why nonlife -> life can't be a continuous process without a clear boundary."

    And you'll remain unsure until you get a clear idea in your head as to what life actually is.
    Until that happens, the speculation will go round in circles as it is here.
    Thor Russell
    I meant more like I don't think there is a clear boundary. Its like a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, there is no clear boundary. If you had been able to observe life from non-life you would probably realize its shades of grey from black to white, rather than the BLACK - WHITE transition that  you seem utterly insistent on only considering. If you considered where reproduction, evolution, information transfer start and what they mean then you could perhaps engage meaningfully but you seem totally closed minded to anything but your word games and desperately wanting it all to be about cooperation. You don't even ask what cooperation is, how it arises etc and what are the necessary conditions for it to make sense. Yes this is probably a waste of time ...
    Thor Russell
    Steve Davis
    It certainly will be a waste of time, until a few more people have what it takes to come forward with a meaningful definition of life.
    What do you think life is?
    Thor Russell
    OK that didn't work. So lets just agree with you for arguments sake and see where it leads. You claim to have some unique insight into life. 
    Now through history people with such unique insights never leave things there. They use it to explain, and predict a whole range of other things. You should be able to look through complex papers on life and explain things in a simpler way. You should able to meaningfully explain when chemical scaffolding and information become separate, you should be able to shed light on whether life started as empty vesicles or replicating molecules, as well as many other things. Don't you have curiosity about these questions? Where are your answers.


    Thor Russell
    My own speculation suggests that the first act of reproduction was largely an accident.

    Are we talking about science or personal experience here?

    "Oh honey you are beautiful you are Aphrodite and Venus rolled into one, let's dance the night away make love", "OK" she says.....The question is it accidental? Oh no, calculated, by her! Girls love narrative....

    The scientist says to his lady "Baby based on my calculations I think it's random accidental when we make love " She says "your right because you aren't getting any tonight" Again calculated by her!!! The scientist roles over "oh my theories on everything are correct, it's all random accidentalism completely unpredictable"....

    The problem with modern science is boring narrative....LOL.......Besides reproduction can't be separated from the beginning of time without invoking "ID" gaps so the issue of reproduction is one that "scientifically will be on the table for a long while into the future. Till then I suggest good wine, nice music, candles, lovely words and kindness. That seems to work really well and directly increases the probabilites.:D

     mere words like "life", which you can define as you like, as long as you make the definitions explicit
    When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master, that's all."


    I don't think definitions are the point here. Evolution by natural selection is the only plausible way biochemical systems can become more complicated. Gerhard is proposing that there can be information-rich systems occuring naturally without reproduction to drive evolution. That's such a departure from usual theories that whether we call them "alive" or not pales into insignificance compared to the radical new paradigm of evolution without reproduction.
    Thor Russell
    I'm starting to think that Humpty and Alice have more wisdom than Mr Chesterton. That will never do I am sure.
    Thor Russell
    Gerhard Adam
    Thanks, I will take a look at it when I have a bit more time.

    After just a quick glance, I did find this comment interesting at the bottom.
    “I imagine that such dirty catalysis could play havoc with nice tidy RNA networks. My overall sense is that this is interesting but probably too clean and tidy to be really meaningful in any realistic early earth setting.”
    Perhaps this was precisely the catalyst for such self-organizing molecules to begin organizing the first "cells" they were absorbed by.  After all, once inside such an enclosure then the environment could be "clean" enough with the means to be more selective about resources obtained and discarded.  I realize that sounds like I'm talking something that sounds like "planning" or some cognitive process, but I'm just referring to a combination of circumstances that may have given rise to the organization we now call "life" being driven by these molecules. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    Thor Russell
    That does make sense. I am a bit of a fan of the cells/vesicles first way, but I admit I know little and its just because its easier for me to visualize. The coming together of self organizing networks and non-living cells seems plausible. Given that there presumably existed non-biological cells/membranes in the primordial soup then I would consider it more likely that they were "hijacked" by such networks if they were there than being developed all by themselves by the networks. I find it hard to see how an evolving network of replicators could develop a cell wall by itself no matter how it evolved. "Co-opting" one already there seems more likely.
    Thor Russell
    Gerhard Adam
    I find it hard to see how an evolving network of replicators could develop a cell wall by itself ...
    Agreed and to the best of my knowledge, there is no genetic mechanism for creating the cell itself [from scratch].  In other words, only cells produce other cells, and while they are directed by the genes, the genes themselves don't have any means of actually coding the production of a cell.  After all, if there were such a mechanism one would be hard pressed to explain why viruses hadn't evolved their own cell structures by this point, opting to hijack existing cells instead.

    Therefore, from my understanding, it is clear that only cells produce other cells, while the genes [DNA] provide the necessary information to manage the final configuration.  This is part of what makes Venter's artificial life interesting, is because by removing the DNA, the cell was unimpaired.  It simply had nothing to direct it until the synthetic DNA was inserted.  Then it "booted" right up and was prepared to follow those directions.  This strongly suggests that there is absolutely no linkage between the DNA and the raw cell material itself.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    This is part of what makes Venter's artificial life interesting, is because by removing the DNA, the cell was unimpaired.  It simply had nothing to direct it until the synthetic DNA was inserted.  Then it "booted" right up and was prepared to follow those directions.  This strongly suggests that there is absolutely no linkage between the DNA and the raw cell material itself.
    Yes, it does make it very interesting! Genetics is fascinating but do you think we maybe spend a disproportional amount of money, time and energy researching and discussing genetic evolution and not enough money, time and energy invested into identifying how life itself was and still could be being formed? 

    I would have thought that QM and nanotechnology should have been able to reveal a lot of new information about these fundamentals of life but I'm not aware of any recent revelations in this field of biology, is anyone else? The mitochondria are the most fascinating part of cell life to me as they have an almost separate existence to the genes, maybe they hold the key to the origin of life? Is there an area of science that primarily studies mitochondria and if so what is it called, mitochondrics maybe? Is it true that mitochondria are more related to bacteria than to other life forms?
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    You might want to examine this link regarding endosymbiosis.  There's a reason why mitochondria appear to have a separate existence to the genes, is because they essentially do.  They have some of their own genes, and are considered to have been separate bacteria at some point in the past.

    It wouldn't be the "key to life", but certainly it illustrates a critical element of what's been discussed.  If we consider virus-like structures invading the empty vesicles as suggested previously, and then consider how symbiotic relationships can become permanent [i.e. like the mitochondria], it becomes clear that there is a continuous chain of events where mutual cooperation/exploitation is the best description to illustrate what is taking place.  Factor in the role of the environment [both in us and around us] and you see that the proverbial "web of life" isn't a metaphor.  It is literal.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Great link thanks. What about QM and nanotechnology, why haven't they revealed more about the fundamentals of life in recent years? Are they too busy searching for the Hiccup boson or the tiniest computer maybe? I wonder what happens to the mitochondria and chloroplasts when we genetically modify organisms, presumably the target cell's mitochondria and chloroplasts always take precedence and are in the offspring? Or is it more random or are we even creating symbiotic new combinations in GM that we don't even know about yet?
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, that causes us to enter the quagmire of trying to define the phrase "fundamentals of life".  What does that mean?  We certainly understand the chemistry and the physics, as far as it goes.  How do we differentiate what's fundamental to life?

    Perhaps the question doesn't even have a meaning, in the sense that chemistry was taking place, and at some point a unique enough combination occurred that would allow it to be self-perpetuating and subject to selection.

    After all, without getting metaphysical about it, you could be completely described by reductionist chemistry arguments.  Does that answer any questions though? 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    We certainly understand the chemistry and the physics, as far as it goes.  How do we differentiate what's fundamental to life? Perhaps the question doesn't even have a meaning, in the sense that chemistry was taking place, and at some point a unique enough combination occurred that would allow it to be self-perpetuating and subject to selection.
    In that case we should be able to create a life form but we don't seem to be anywhere near to being able to do that, let alone creating a self replicating one. The artificial DNA project will hopefully shed more light soon.
    After all, without getting metaphysical about it, you could be completely described by reductionist chemistry arguments.  Does that answer any questions though? 
    Well yes, that's why I'm asking about QM and nanotechnology and why they aren't making more significant contributions to this field, which you haven't answered yet. It also begs the question as to whether the Buddhists could be right about reincarnation, until we can scientifically prove otherwise, that there might be an additional energy which is a life force with its own encoded information in some format that can enter and leave cells and exist independently and/or symbiotically both within and without them?
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, the last part of your post is the same thing as vitalism which simply doesn't make sense nor have any scientific basis.

    However, in the first part your problem is that there may not be a specific mechanism to create life as you've described it.  In other words, if there was some arbitrary "coming together" of various chemicals such as RNA into empty cellular vesicles then perhaps that's all there ever was.  If so, then Venter's experiment actually did create life.  After all, a cell without any information content may not even qualify as being "alive".

    So, even if we considered that this was already achieved, the basic problem is that we don't necessarily know what we want the cell to do.  BTW, Venter's cell is capable of replicating.

    As has been discussed before, trying to establish where to draw this arbitrary line we call "life" is difficult and may be impossible.  Do we consider viruses alive?  How about prions?  At some point some things we consider alive may not meet all the criteria [i.e. red blood cells] and other "non-living" things may meet it [i.e. DNA replication].

    In general, the definition is quite arbitrary and despite the going back and forth in terms of life's origins, I'm primarily of the mind that the question probably doesn't have a specific answer, beyond an arbitrary line where we say ... "There, it's alive".  After all, if we can't even fully agree on the criteria for life, then we'll certainly never fully agree on when it begins.

    Mundus vult decipi
    are u a vampire?.

    I see a distinct bias in this discussion towards "The whole is more than sum of all the parts" philosophy, which is quite shocking. From a strictly physical point of view, a system that has limited lifespan (a living cell) somehow sounds inferior to ones that are practically immortal (atoms and molecules). Life, therefore, might be no more than a football game between colonies of atoms and molecules. The molecules, atoms subatomic particles quarks etc might be trancendentally super intelligent than any living organism, and completely out of reach of "understanding" by any living process.