Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reanalyzing The Original Primordial Soup

Primordial synthesis of amines and amino acids in a 1958 Miller H2S-rich spark discharge experiment. 2011. E.T. Parker, et al. PNAS, Published online before print March 21.

FF © Marvel Comics. Thanks to AS
Stanley Miller gained fame with his 1953 experiment showing the synthesis of organic compounds thought to be important in setting the origin of life in motion. Five years later, he produced samples from a similar experiment, shelved them and, as far as friends and colleagues know, never returned to them in his lifetime.

More 50 years later, Jeffrey Bada, Miller's former student, discovered the samples in Miller's laboratory material and made a discovery that represents a potential breakthrough in the search for the processes that created Earth's first life forms.

Unanalyzed samples from a 1958 Stanley Miller. The vials have been relabeled but the boxes are marked with Miller's original notes. Photo: Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Miller's 1958 experiment in which hydrogen sulfide was added to a mix of gases believed to be present in the atmosphere of early Earth resulted in the synthesis of sulfur amino acids as well as other amino acids. The analysis by Bada's lab using techniques not available to Miller suggests that a diversity of organic compounds existed on early planet Earth to an extent scientists had not previously realized.

"Much to our surprise the yield of amino acids is a lot richer than any experiment (Miller) had ever conducted," said Bada.

The new findings support the case that volcanoes — a major source of atmospheric hydrogen sulfide today — accompanied by lightning converted simple gases into a wide array of amino acids, which are were in turn available for assembly into early proteins.

Bada also found that the amino acids produced in Miller's experiment with hydrogen sulfide are similar to those found in meteorites. This supports a widely-held hypothesis that processes such as the ones in the laboratory experiments provide a model of how organic material needed for the origin of life are likely widespread in the universe and thus may provide the extraterrestrial seeds of life elsewhere.

Successful creation of the sulfur-rich amino acids would take place in the labs of several researchers, including Miller himself, but not until the 1970s.

"Unbeknownst to him, he'd already done it in 1958," said Bada. link