Monday, February 4, 2019

In The Beginning.....

There are questions for which simple folk (like me) cannot hope to find the answer. Some scientific types try to, and even the most humble of intelligences (mine is not that humble) look at the difficult ideas that they come up with. The Origins of Life is one of those big questions. The Tavern's Supplier has given us an answer which most people find all too easy to dismiss while they look for something they can grasp and claim some credit for themselves.

We do like to keep busy. Human beans have, we are to understand from the clever types, a long history of development, and while early folk grasped 'Art' and even a bit of technology - think of flint tools and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon -  it has nonetheless taken until only very recently for Science to arrive and find the tools to look more deeply and rigorously. And some answers were devised. 

So, having established to the satisfaction of very few thinking folk, in the era when we moved on a little from sailing ships,  that the entire Universe shebang came into existence with a very loud noise (that no-one could hear as there was no one around) from nothing and nowhere, by accident, randomly, we have arrived at the point where the question has changed to 'Where did Life come from'.  It is thought by some to be an easier question. Hah !

And here we start to look at the attempts to answer. So, very briefly, as an introduction, we have...... a drum roll......
There. Simplified for you. Except.......the panspermia bizzo is just a TATWD guess - Turtles All The Way Down. Where and how did that life, floating about originate?

The life in a bottle bizzo didn't sail either as 'Science' demands repeats and it never has been. It was very probably a soiled sample, despite some saying that it is a viable hypothosis. 

Let's look deeper.  Deeper in the sea.  The deep-sea vent theory suggests that life may have begun at submarine hydrothermal vents spewing key hydrogen-rich molecules. Their rocky nooks could then have concentrated these molecules together and provided mineral catalysts for critical reactions. Even now, these vents, rich in chemical and thermal energy, sustain vibrant ecosystems. A few too many 'mays' and 'coulds' though.
A probable future for deep sea divers and bathosphere drivers, but not an answer that is likely repeatable. As yet there is no evidence that life originated there, but heck, I am a simple man. How do I know.

Other 'hypothoses' have been considered. On the shoulders of Giants and the backs of turtles, the chemical scientists keep plodding on, cooking up recipes. The probability of an answer coming up soon is, well.... 

So far the recipe eludes us, so what about that Probability bizzo?

What is the liklihood of life arising all on it's todd? Given the 'right' conditions, that is. Is it possible? Or Probable?

That would be a place to start and it can bring in the carpenters and plumbers and electricians of the Science world.... The Mathematicians.  These are the guys that provide the basements and walls, the pipes and circuits for the architects of the sciences. And the tasty meals while they 'think'.

Now we are cooking !!

For the meaty main course below, I rely heavily on a good chef.

Today, origin of life research continues under the assumptions of materialism. Researchers believe that if they can explain the formation of a building block or a possible energy source, they are making progress toward solving one of the most baffling mysteries of science. 

The major factor they consistently fail to address is the source of the information that is the hallmark of life. 

It’s not enough to get the building blocks of a cell any more than it is to get iron ore for a skyscraper. 

The building blocks need to be assembled and arranged in a purposeful way. That’s the sequencing problem for RNA, DNA and proteins.

Since protein machines do most of the work in living cells (both modern and primordial), their existence merits explanation.

Proteins are constructed from precisely sequenced chains of amino acids. Most proteins in the simplest life forms (Achaea) range from 156 to 283 amino acids in length. Some shorter proteins exist (more accurately called “polypeptides”), but most of them have simpler roles in the cell, acting as signaling molecules or cofactors. Some proteins contain many hundreds or thousands of amino acids. 

We chose a smaller-than-average protein of 150 amino acids to illustrate the difficulty of sequencing any protein by chance—including those required in the first living cell.

We consider the PROBABILITY

The estimated probability for a 150-amino-acid protein comes from the work of Douglas Axe and Stephen Meyer. Axe published a paper in 2004 that calculated the fraction of useful proteins in random chains of amino acids. A “useful” protein must be able to fold into a stable structure to perform any function. Compared to the huge number of random chains that would not fold, the number of proteins with this ability is miniscule.

After carefully measuring the tolerance to change in particular enzymes, Axe estimated that only one in 1074 chains of 150 amino acids would fold and be functional. This implies that you would have to search through 1074 chains of that length to find a single useful protein. So we start by looking for one protein (any chain of 150 amino acids) that could be useful in a primitive cell by spontaneously folding into a stable shape.

In his book, Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer recognized two additional constraints for the chance origin of a protein. 

First, amino acids need to be “one-handed.” In nature, amino acids (except the simplest, glycine) come in two forms: left-handed and right-handed. All living things use only the left-handed form. 

This is what gives proteins the ability to fold. 

Experiments show that random chains using both hands become useless lumps of molecules. Indeed, living cells cannot tolerate wrong-handed amino acids, and employ quality controls to ensure their amino acids are left-handed. The earliest imaginable life form could have used either left-handed or right-handed building blocks, but would have to select one or the other--and stick with it. 

With that constraint, Meyer assumes an additional 1-out-of-2 chance the correct form would be selected at each point in the chain (after the positioning of the first building block). For 150 amino acids, that becomes 0.5-149 or one chance in 1045.

Let's look at that in an easier-to grasp-manner.

The second constraint concerns the type of bond that must form between amino acids. Proteins use peptide bonds in which the H atom on one end joins with the OH atoms on the other end, releasing H20—a water molecule. 

(This, incidentally, is why proteins cannot be expected to form spontaneously in water, because peptide bond formation would go against chemistry’s law of mass action; such bonds would be far more likely to break than join.)

Puts the moccas on the undersea vents idea.  

Other bonds between amino acids, however, are possible. They result in clumps of useless “tar” as biochemists call it. Meyer assumed another 1-out-of-2 chance that each bond would be a peptide bond (a generous assumption). That decreases the probability by another 1045.

Putting the probabilities together means adding the exponents. The probability of getting a properly folded chain of one-handed amino acids, joined by peptide bonds, is one chance in 10^74+45+45, or 

one in 10^164 .  

This means that, on average, you would need to construct 10^164 chains of amino acids 150 units long to expect to find one that is useful.

So, now we have one.

Or not.

Given time, maybe. 

Well more time than we have had it seems.

So far, we have advanced so far as to be confronted with the extreme UNliklihood of Life arising by itself at all.

Personally, being a simple fellow, and having exchanged pleasantries many a time with my Supplier's angelic barrel hauler, I am content with not knowing the exact means by which the 

Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life...

......managed it. 

I am simply in awe that He did.

Can we get further? Well, I, for one, cannot. I am busy with the here and now. I have pints to pull, tables to wipe and even more interesting customers to engage with. And you, of course.

Enjoy your drinks.



  1. Now we have got that all sorted out.. I think it is time for a glass of chilled Rose ;-)

    1. I shall fetch some water. I know someone who can make it just right.

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