Laser-Zapping Experiment Simulates Beginnings of Life on Earth

Dec 17, 2014

Credit: Dagmar Civisova

By Tanya Lewis

The origin of life on Earth about 4 billion years ago remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of science, but a new study is shedding light on the matter.

To recreate the conditions thought to exist on Earth when life began, scientists used a giant laser to ignite chemical reactions that converted a substance found on the early Earth into the molecular building blocks of DNA, the blueprint for life.

The findings not only offer support for theories of how life first formed, but could also aid in the search for signs of life elsewhere in the universe, the researchers said.

The beginning of life coincides with a hypothetical event that occurred 4 billion to 3.85 billion years ago, known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, in which asteroids pummeled Earth and the solar system’s other inner planets. These impacts may have provided the energy to jumpstart the chemistry of life, scientists say.

In 1952, the chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey conducted a famous experiment at the University of Chicago in which they simulated the conditions thought to be present on early Earth. This experiment was intended to show how the basic materials for life could be produced from nonliving matter.


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11 comments on “Laser-Zapping Experiment Simulates Beginnings of Life on Earth

  • Life got started, because I am here typing this.
    God didn’t do it, so a chemical reaction must have occurred that became life.

    We may never know, the full details or the exact mechanism, but we will always know that it didn’t require a god.



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  • Creationists claim that the spontaneous creation of DNA is impossible. It looks like that probably is not so. After all, we having been doing it every day in the lab for years. Regroup creationists! Hint: claim that it is a miracle that the building blocks of DNA spontaneously form. Claim, as usual without evidence, that Jehovah, the master chemist of the bible, so designed chemistry that this could happen automatically in the natural course of things, like an aquarist setting up an automated fish feeder so that his direct action is no longer required.



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  • I must say the original article lost a lot of its allure when it spoke about power measured in Joules… But, leaving that aside, quite amazing how “easily” you can come up with life’s lego bricks: you just need high pressures and high temperature -ordinary sort of high, that you can talk of on your average planet’s surface. Really, no big wizard needed here.

    I remember another experiment, that I sadly can’t remember how to reference here (if someone can retrieve it, you’re very welcome to post it!), in which they put some basic organic molecules, the sort you find on asteroid and comets, into a vessel and then subjected them to shockwaves of the kind you’d expect to have when those bodies hit the Earth. The goal was to see whether they could survive the impact: they didn’t. When they opened the vessel they found it full of amino acids.

    Back to this experiment, it’s also interesting that they found Uracil instead of its DNA equivalent, which could support the thesis that RNA came first and DNA is a later form. Sort of.



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  • What a mind numbing (as Richard Dawkins says) that life, even our whole universe (according to Hawkins and Dr. Krauss) originated from nothing. That which made that possible is definitely a power greater than me and if I choose to worship it, it’s my business and if I also choose to investigate it more through Science, that is not the business of religious fanatics. The great reality can be found inside each one of us since we’re also a part of the mystery of life and we’re worth investigating.



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  • That which made that possible is definitely a power greater than me and if I choose to worship it, it’s my business…

    I agree and support your right to worship anything you like. The problem arises when as a result of this worship, the worshipers views and actions protrude into the real world and affect another person. A brief cursory glance across the topics in the news section above will show examples of worshipers imposing their personal gods views on other people, which must be resisted. Keep the worship private and let evidence make the decisions for humanity.

    Religion should be practiced by consenting adults in private.



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  • Hmm, yes I’m also suspicious of any “higher power”, i.e. not detectable by science. If people want to worship the Higgs’ Field, which gives rise to mass in the universe, then that’s up to them. It would be a new form of pantheism. For myself, I’m just interested in nature and how it works, and I have no need of any “higher power” in my life.



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  • Darius Dec 18, 2014 at 9:23 am

    What a mind numbing (as Richard Dawkins says) that life, even our whole universe (according to Hawkins and Dr. Krauss) originated from nothing.

    Ah! The “nothing” of quantum physics, – not to be confused with “theistic nothing”!

    If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God;



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  • Only mind numbing from a perspective within a faith bubble. Observing natural processes for centuries has never revealed anything supernatural, nor is it apt to. You’re beginning with a premise then attempting to use science to validate your belief. Please don’t kid yourself. That is not science. The idea of a great reality inside us is another false premise within faith. Science reveals we’re incredibly complex, not mysterious. As with the universe.



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  • David Dec 20, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Only mind numbing from a perspective within a faith bubble.

    “Faith” is a well known source of minds numbed by incredulity.

    Observing natural processes for centuries has never revealed anything supernatural, nor is it apt to.

    That is correct.

    You’re [Darius] beginning with a premise then attempting to use science to validate your belief. Please don’t kid yourself. That is not science. The idea of a great reality inside us is another false premise within faith.

    The egotistical need for pretending the individual or the Earth is “greater” than the universe frequently indicates a lack of comprehension of the scale of the planet, the scale of the Solar-System, the scale of the galaxy, and the scale of the universe.

    The “greater self”, is only a flawed self assessment by the god delusions in individual brains. On the scale of the universe we are microscopically small, and exist for a tiny fraction of astronomical time!

    Science reveals we’re incredibly complex, not mysterious. As with the universe.

    It has however taken billions of years to build up that complexity from simple beginnings., but modern geneticists, are getting progressively nearer to mapping the processes of early biochemistry and abiogenesis.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg

    This has been CONFIRMED in Dr. Jack Szostak’s LAB. 2009 Nobel Laurette in medicine for his work on telomerase.



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  • Lorenzo Dec 18, 2014 at 3:30 am

    I must say the original article lost a lot of its allure when it spoke about power measured in Joules…

    That and the numbers quoted!

    The author should perhaps be referred to this page:-

    http://www.rapidtables.com/convert/energy/Joule_to_kWh.htm

    A laser providing 0.00027777777778 kilowatt-hours of converted electrical power, does not quite sound like the energy of a meteor impact – or equivalent to the amount produced by an atomic power station,



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