Saturday, January 8, 2011

From the “What Is Life?” coffee club: What isn’t life

From Timothy Kusky, Encyclopedia of Earth and Space Science (New York: Facts on File, 2010), 384:
Complex organic molecules including amino acids do not constitute life. After the simple amino acids form, it is no easy task to combine them into larger molecules and complex molecules necessary for life. These need additional stimuli, such as hot acidic water, or ultraviolet radiation, or perhaps lightning. A mechanism for initiating the ability for molecules to transmit information so that they can replicate themselves is also necessary. One idea is that this may have first been done on the surfaces of clay minerals, such as those found in some submarine hot spring environments such as those along the mid-ocean ridges. Somehow, in the early Precambrian, life emerged from these complex organic molecules and simple amino acids, but the origin of life remains one of life's biggest mysteries.
Now, if only people would quit definitively solving the problems every two weeks, we might actually start learning something.

(Note: Encyclopedia can be downloaded for free.)