Fake Banner
What's It Like For A Working Scientist To Write A Novel?

In an essay for The New York Times, (September 28, 2002) Joseph Epstein wrote: "According to a...

Mystery Explosion

I was impressed by the extensive damage done to an Indiana home and surrounding structures a few...

Origin Of Life Funding: Benefactor Offers Hard Cash For A Good Research Idea

Harry Lonsdale called me out of the blue last year,saying that he would be passing through Santa...

So You Want To Write A Book?

A few Science 2.0 readers may recall that I tried out some ideas for a book here in 2009, and the...

User picture.
Dave DeamerRSS Feed of this column.

My research focuses on a variety of topics related to membrane biophysics, including the origin of cell membranes and the use of transmembrane nanopores to analyze nucleic acids. Over the past

... Read More »


    For life to begin, there had to be a source of organic compounds in the prebiotic environment. We now think that some of the compounds were delivered to the Earth on comets, meteorites and dust particles, but others were synthesized in the atmosphere, hydrosphere and in volcanic conditions.

How do we know? This question brings up the important topic of prebiotic simulations. In a simulation, we make a set of assumptions about local conditions on the early Earth, then reproduce those conditions in the laboratory and run experiments to see what happens.

Many people, perhaps most, hate the idea that life might depend on chance processes. It is a human tendency to search for meaning, and what could be more meaningful than the belief that our lives have a greater purpose, that all life in fact is guided by a supreme intelligence which manifests itself even at the level of individual molecules? 

In last week’s column I described how Bill Irvine uses radio astronomy techniques to detect and identify organic compounds in interstellar space. Why is it so important for the origin of life on Earth that organic compounds are scattered throughout our galaxy?

    Last week I described how Fred Hoyle, in 1946,  came up with the idea that carbon is synthesized in hot stars toward the end of their lifetime, and we now know that carbon and the other elements of life are strewn into interstellar space when the star explodes. In his later career, Hoyle was never able to match his earlier triumph of carbon nucleosynthesis, but he certainly tried.

    Last week I described how a boulder-sized meteorite exploded in the skies over Murchison, Australia, forty years ago. The remarkable mix of organic compounds discovered in samples of the meteorite, which included amino acids, confirmed that some of the compounds required for the origin of life could have an extraterrestrial origin, as John Oro had proposed  ten years earlier. But where did the organic compounds come from, and how were they synthesized? 

     In the summer of 1981, a colleague at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountainview, California, gave me a small black stone wrapped in aluminum foil that changed the course of my life.