Organic soup or hot bubbles?

For eighty years, scientists have had a theory about how and where life got started on Earth.  It’s known as the Organic Soup theory, which suggests that early life got started in a soup of methane, ammonia and water that combined into the first organic compounds in the ocean when they were bombarded with UV radiation.  It’s a widely accepted theory, but so far, no one has been able to replicate these supposed events in a variety of laboratory attempts.

Now another theory of life is being tested in a NASA laboratory in California.  It’s the Hot Bubbles theory, developed after scientists discovered that, against all expectations, bacteria called “extremeophiles” could survive – even flourish – under conditions of extreme heat.  Scientists are trying to discover if  carbon molecules, the early building blocks of life, could have been transformed into the hydrocarbons methane and ethane, the next step up toward the construction of chains of DNA and RNA.

Their set up doesn’t look very primitive, but the vials and tubes contain the same elements subjected to the same conditions as those existing around the ocean vents at the deep floor of the ocean almost four and a half billion years ago.

If their research produces positive results, the bubble bath may replace hot soup as the source of our origins.


About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
This entry was posted in a scientific theory examined, humans, primates, and other life on earth, something new about something old and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Organic soup or hot bubbles?

  1. Henk Meevis says:

    Hello Terry,

    Should you want to look again in my book “Mephisto Manifesto” in which I propound that we, meaning humankind as well as plants and any substance known to us on earth, are merely a complex composition of, for lack of a better word, chemicals. You may notice a similarity of my words and the newly found possibility that there could be living things flourishing in extreme heat, cold, gasses or whatever.

    That we think that such composition has to conform to a mixture to thrive and prosper as exists on earth is not only shortsighted but arrogant in the extreme. Ask Galileo about the centre of us in the Universe, according to the RCC. Best regards, Henk

    • Henk, I agree with you that there is no reason to assume that all of life, even on this planet, is composed solely of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules. It is almost certainly existing in conditions that would be deadly for life with which we are familiar. I know that some biologists have expressed the same view — the problem is that we just don’t know what else to look for, do we?

      Which does pose an interesting question: what is life? The old saw that it is any organism capable of procreation doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter, since many individuals within a species at any given time are not capable of generating new life. One of the most intriguing definitions I’ve come across lately is that to animate means the ability to self-organize. What that does is to restore the potential – or perhaps even the actuality – of life in matter which early science, in an attempt to distinguish itself from religion (and so survive the power of suppression exerted by the RCC) declared to be inert. But with Einstein’s E=mc2, we know that matter and energy are two aspects of the same thing. Matter isn’t inert, as such. We haven’t yet figured out how mind and body are related, but I am convinced that they are two aspects of the same thing.

      This does not mean I am a reductionist. I emphatically not. I do not believe that the entire universe can be explained using only the principles of physics. At each new level of organization, additional laws are needed. The laws of physics continue to operate, but further principles are required to explain plant life, for instance, that are required to explain chemical reactions. And so forth.

      Any further thoughts, amplifications, or disagreement on your part would be most welcome. Terry

      • Henk Meevis says:

        Hi Terry, It is a pleasure for me to read your words in response to mine. Please accept that we are enlarging on a subject in which your command of the chosen language is superior to mine. But even so, I dare isolating the last two lines in par. 2 of your reply “two aspects of the same thing” and wish to say; Once we are couragious enough to come to the, perhaps shaky, conclusion that mind and body may be related in some way, as you do suggest, I venture to take the conundrum one step forward and can see (mentally) that; if the body actually is, however complicated it may be, a chemical composition, that composition on its own creates the mind. Develloping from the womb at conception time to its culminating-point in its life span, only terminating as brain death occurs, different for each individual walking on this globe.

        Try selling that to the RCC. Perhaps the parting Eminence did see the light. Henk

      • Hi Henk, Yes, I do think mind and body are two aspects of the same thing just as, as I said, matter and energy are two forms of the same thing. As Naom Chomsky so eloquently elaborates, matter is intrinsically energized, not the inert substance solely under the control of external mechanical forces science first said. But it took almost five hundred years after the Renaissance began for Einstein to unravel the relationship between energy and matter, and there is a great deal that we still don’t understand about it. There are built-in apparent contradictions and uncertainties which Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminancy suggests are insurmountable. We are even further from any coherent theory about the relationship between mind and body. Maybe it will take another 500 years for some genius to unravel — if the human species survives that long.

        I do think more and more that we need to see our individual selves in the context of the entire ongoing universe. We are parts of a process, every bit as much as each of our individual cells are part of the ongoing process in each of our bodies, as bacteria are a part of a process much larger than themselves. This puts death in a rather different perspective for me. When I die, what I am remains part of the process, just as the cells we exchange in our bodies every seven years. It seems that not a single atom which we possessed seven years ago is still part of our bodies. But the process of the individual carries on until it’s time to participate in the process in a different way. In a way, it’s an extraordinary privilege not only to be part of something so astonishing as the dynamic universe, but to actually be conscious may be a unique human capacity.

        On a slightly less profound note, please do not embarrass me by suggesting that my grasp of English may be better than yours. I am conversant in only one other language besides English (not counting Latin, which I’ve mostly forgotten), and your grasp of English as a second language makes my own look pitiful. In any case, I look forward to your further thoughts. Terry

  2. name789 says:

    DNA & RNA contains information; carbon molecules do not gather, collect, accumulate information; neither do simple or complex molecules………….. yet the very first living organism contained information; an extremeophile contains information……
    why would a non-living molecule gather information? from where would this information come ?

    as far as we know and can measure, time, space, matter, laws of physics, exist; they came into existence at the same time in the same place…… in the very first fraction of the very first second of its existence matter behaved according to law; where did this law come from and why did matter obey it ?

    • Yes – one of the fascinating things about the universe is that each time there is a higher level of organization – whether it be from atoms to molecules, molecules to plants, plants to animals, etc., entirely new laws emerge. They do not contract the more primitive laws, but the primitive laws are insufficient to fully explain the new order. The Gestalt philosophers summed it up with “The whole cannot be fully explained as the sum of its parts.”

      But where do these laws come from? Some people say “God.” That isn’t an answer for me, because “God” is as inexplicable as the question itself. For me, that simply pushes the question further back without answering it. The concept of “God,” like our universe itself, is a mystery which we can recognize but cannot explain. A reading of so much as a single edition of Scientific American illustrates the that the more we learn, the bigger the mystery seems to get.

      Personally, I have experience living within it a great privilege. (And when I’ve had enough sleep and am not too hungry, a great joy.)

      What do you make of it?

      • name789 says:

        My point would have been that before they present grand explanations, scientists should consult with logic and reality. A journey must start with the first step and we cannot arrive at the end of a road without taking the first step. Is there a reason to suggest that there was a journey from soup to sandwitch ?

        Observation shows that no body took this first step, and there is good reason to suggest that no body had the ability to take the first step; –carbon did not proceed towards forming a building block, the lobe-finned fish did not decide to grow legs and walk on land, the handy man (homo habilis) did not, one day, make a baby with a brand-new type of brain– but scientists skip over this minor nuisance, and extrapolate backwards from the finish-line to a second step

        Yes, you may choose the option that time, space, matter and the laws always existed; but you still need a decider —today we have the carbon, the information, the other ingredients, yet if we put them all into a jar (which already is a decision-maker role), they just sit there without ever taking any step

      • I appreciate your position, though my own view is that the human mind does not have the capacity to fully understand the universe. Yes, we have the questions, but I am not satisfied that any of the ultimate explanations offered by religion, philosophy, or science is utterly convincing. Each “answer” seems to me to leave ultimate and profound questions unanswered. So my choice is to live in mystery. That does not mean not caring, or not learning more. In fact, for me it means living in constant amazement and wonder and even joy to be part of some thing so astonishing.

        But it seems to me that the only choice we have is to respect the perspectives of those who disagree with us. If history is any guide, though, it’s absolutely amazing how difficult we humans find this simple act of tolerance, isn’t it?

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