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


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 Scripps Institution of Oceanography on the web: Scripps News on the web: Scripps Centennial on the web:

Mario Aguilera | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Signaling Pathways to the Nucleus
19.03.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht In monogamous species, a compatible partner is more important than an ornamented one
19.03.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Development and Fast Analysis of 3D Printed HF Components

19.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

In monogamous species, a compatible partner is more important than an ornamented one

19.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Signaling Pathways to the Nucleus

19.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>