Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Recooking the Recipe for Prebiotic Soup: Scripps Professor Revisits the Miller Experiment and the Origin of Life

02.05.2003


In the fall of 1952, Stanley Miller, now a chemistry professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), began simulating primitive earthly conditions in an experiment that produced the basic building blocks of life. When he published the results in Science on May 15 the following year, he kick-started research on the origin of life and transformed modern thinking on a dormant area of science.



Jeffrey Bada, a professor of marine chemistry at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD, and an expert on origin of life processes, revisits the famous "Miller experiment" in a report published in the May 2 issue of Science.

"Up to Miller’s experiment there was a large vacuum in our understanding of how life began on the earth," said Bada, who coauthored the report with Antonio Lazcano, a scientist at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and is a visiting scholar at UCSD in Miller’s laboratory. "Up to that point no one had demonstrated how compounds like amino acids could be synthesized under possible early Earth conditions."


Bada and Lazcano’s essay traces the history of the Miller experiment, which originated when the late Nobel Laureate and UCSD Chemistry Professor Harold Urey discussed the idea behind the experiment in a lecture at the University of Chicago. Miller, then a graduate student in the audience, eventually presented Urey the idea of a prebiotic synthesis experiment applying an electric discharge to a mixture of methane, ammonia, water vapor, and hydrogen. Urey eventually agreed to the idea.

Results of the famous Miller experiment, which used the glass apparatus pictured, were published by Science 50 years ago. The lower flask was designed to simulate the oceans and the upper flask the atmosphere. The energy was supplied by sparking between two wire electrodes.

During Miller’s experiment, the mixture of gases was circulated through a liquid water solution and continuously zapped with the electric spark, which substituted for lightning. The surprising products of the process were "biochemically significant" compounds such as amino acids, hydroxy acids, and urea. Thus, with Urey’s guidance, Miller had produced the basic building blocks of contemporary life forms on Earth.

"In the early 1950s, several groups were attempting organic synthesis under primitive conditions," Bada and Lazcano note in their essay. "But it was the Miller experiment, placed in the Darwinian perspective provided by Oparin’s ideas and deeply rooted in the 19th century tradition of synthetic organic chemistry, that almost overnight transformed the study of the origin of life into a respectable field of inquiry."

Bada and Lazcano also note that Miller’s study was published only a few weeks after Watson and Crick’s landmark paper on the DNA double-helix model and the authors highlight the important link between the two young fields in the years that followed.

EVENT NOTE: Bada will be giving a public lecture on the 50th anniversary of the Miller experiment at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 10, 2003, during "Celebrating 50 Years of Prebiotic Chemistry," a public event at the Robinson Building Complex Auditorium, Graduate School of International Relations & Pacific Studies (IR/PS), Thurgood Marshall College, UCSD campus. The event, which also features Gerald Joyce of the Scripps Research Institute, is sponsored by the NASA Specialized Center of Research and Training (NSCORT) in Exobiology, the UCSD Dean of Physical Sciences, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCSD, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. For information about the event: 858/534-1891; or visit the NSCORT/Exobiology web site at http://exobio.ucsd.edu. Scripps Institution of Oceanography on the web: http://scripps.ucsd.edu Scripps News on the web: http://scrippsnews.ucsd.edu Scripps Centennial on the web: http://scripps100.ucsd.edu

Mario Aguilera | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucsd.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht At last, butterflies get a bigger, better evolutionary tree
16.02.2018 | Florida Museum of Natural History

nachricht New treatment strategies for chronic kidney disease from the animal kingdom
16.02.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

Im Focus: Autonomous 3D scanner supports individual manufacturing processes

Let’s say the armrest is broken in your vintage car. As things stand, you would need a lot of luck and persistence to find the right spare part. But in the world of Industrie 4.0 and production with batch sizes of one, you can simply scan the armrest and print it out. This is made possible by the first ever 3D scanner capable of working autonomously and in real time. The autonomous scanning system will be on display at the Hannover Messe Preview on February 6 and at the Hannover Messe proper from April 23 to 27, 2018 (Hall 6, Booth A30).

Part of the charm of vintage cars is that they stopped making them long ago, so it is special when you do see one out on the roads. If something breaks or...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Fingerprints of quantum entanglement

16.02.2018 | Information Technology

'Living bandages': NUST MISIS scientists develop biocompatible anti-burn nanofibers

16.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Hubble sees Neptune's mysterious shrinking storm

16.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>