Paleontology

Do you believe in the Primordial Soup Theory – Yes



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From a standpoint of belief, just about anything you can think of is representative of an intangible reality. The more pertinent quandary however, is whether it is a true reality. In just about any aspect of human sagacious enterprise intangible realities are regarded as accepted phenomenon, but from a perspective of scientific understanding, intangible realities are considered little more than whimsical notions. Science demands that reality must be supported by immutable evidence and undeniable proofs, it only deals in true realities. The primordial soup theory ceased to be a theory in the 1950's when experimental evidence and proofs derived by molecular biologists, established that the basic chemical constructs of cellular biology are a part of the ongoing natural chemical evolution of the universe.

My dad once related to me that many people in the area where he grew up in the 1920's still held the deluded notion that the Earth was flat. The people were Mennonites who weren't schooled in anything beyond the superstitions and mythological premises of the Bible and this compendium clearly infers that the Earth is flat and at the center of the universe, so who can argue with the Word of God? Well, a guy by the name of Nicholas Copernicus did about 400 years ago and it just took a while for everybody to get on the same intellectual page as he was. I would have difficulty believing today, that there is anybody, even Mennonites who still live where my dad grew up, who continue to uphold the notion that the Earth is flat. Since the primordial soup theory has only been around for 60 years, there are probably just a few folks out there who lack the frame of reference to know that it's a true reality. For there benefit, although somehow I don't think they will get it, consider a summary of the evidence and proofs.

By the 1940's some pretty brilliant scientists had figured out that life was made of proteins and sugar phosphate molecules, by then identified as the substance of life and instrument of heredity. Using a technology called X-ray lithography, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin photographed the delicate crystalline structure of the sugar phosphate molecule and determined it chemical configuration as that of dioxyrybose. Two time Nobel laureate, and in the words of James D. Watson, the greatest chemist that ever lived, Linus Pauling who pioneered chemical understanding of proteins discovered that among the strands of dioxyribose were protein like substances composed of three basic amino acids dubbed nucleotides. Furthermore, they determined that these nucleotides came in two basic flavors labeled purine and pryrimidine bases. The final piece of the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) structural puzzle came together in 1952, when James D. Watson and Francis Crick figured out an pieced together it's double helix structure.

The secret of life was a secret no more. The substance of life was nothing but a collection of 20 naturally occurring amino acids in the form of proteins and nucleotides glued together with naturally occurring hydrogen and peptide bonds, and forming some very complex macromolecules. If this is true, some astute scientists at the University of Chigago, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey theorized, all you have to do is mix the basic ingredients of amino acids, hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen, supply a little energy to get the reaction going, and presto, you should observe amino acids being created. Well, maybe created is not the right synonym to use here, perhaps naturally forming would be a better way to phrase it. Any way, Miller and Urey created an experiment to test their hypothesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller-Urey_experiment) and sure enough the result was not twenty but twenty two amino acids. It's a safe bet that almost every college student taking molecular biology these days gets to recreate the Miller-Urey experiment or something along the same lines.

But how can we know that the correct ingredients were available in the incipient stages of planetary development to result in naturally occurring amino acids? It turns out,that today we know that the early Earth was a perfect reactor vessel full of just the right stuff to result in the natural formation of amino acids. There was no elemental oxygen in the atmosphere, because the cyanobacteria responsible for producing it through photosynthetic process did not exist yet. Instead the atmosphere was composed of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water vapor, ammonia, and methane with trace amounts of sulfur dioxide and other gaseous elements. How do we know this? Simply because all of that stuff is still here, but in an evolved form. So basically, this is the primordial chemical soup of we are talking about here. If it didn't exist then it is up to those on the no side of this debate to suggest what did and supported with a body of scientific evidence of greater merit than already exists in substantiation of the primordial soup theory.

Now, if you take some methane gas CH4, combine it with some ammonia NH3, stimulate it with an electric spark or ultraviolet radiation, you will end up with a new compound called methylamine. Add in some water vapor and carbon dioxide and you may end up with methylamine, a modified version of it including a carboyl group COOH and another interesting concoction called carbamate. The methylamine with an attached carboxyl group (NH2CH3COOH) is call amine, and it is the simplest of amino acids. Nineteen of the 20 amino acids found in living organisms are all variations of the methylamine base while the amino acid proline has a slightly different configuration.

As the incipient Earth cooled through a process of convection, the same process that produces thunder storms in the atmosphere today, water vapor eventually began to condense and fall to the ground, bringing with it all sorts of amide compounds and forming puddles on the warm surface of the earth. These puddles were the primordial soup. Overtime the naturally forming amino acids reacted with each other to produce more complex structures called polypeptide chains, also referred to as proteins. More than 50,000 unique protein configurations have been identified and cataloged to date, and many of them have remarkable chemical properties. The brew of the primordial soup was congealing into a slimy slurry. But proteins weren't the only complex molecules being naturally synthesized in the primordial soup, the amino acids aspartate, glycine and glutamine were combining to form nucleotides.

Of course, as pointed out at the outset of this article, you can believe anything you want and if you want to base your belief on a page and a half of mythological lore, or take into consideration enough scientific data and immutable evidence to fill an entire library, well, that is a matter of choice. You can even still believe that the Earth is flat and at the center of the universe if you want to, but that won't make it so. Even though no human has yet to gain a vantage point in the universe to visually ascertain that the Earth and other planets orbit the Sun, we know it to be a certainty; predictable with mathematical precision and confirmed by self evident truths. Having attained a working understanding of the chemistry taking place at the macromolecule level, we can witness the very same chemistry taking place today, just as it did in the primordial soup of the incipient terra firma. Even more, if it were not a valid theory, indeed a proven certainty, we could hardly be slicing, dicing and splicing DNA molecules in laboratories all over the world today. No, as in the case of Copernicus's heliocentric theory, it is the primordial soup theory that is the true reality, and the intangible beliefs and whimsical notions of supernaturalism which are in need of some reconciliation.

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