Saturday, December 10, 2005

A chicken-and-egg problem ... how the relationship between RNA and proteins originated

Here is a nice quote on another major "chicken-and-egg" problem of the naturalistic origin of life, that I found this morning in a secondhand book, "The Structure of Living Organisms" (1989), which I had bought some time ago. The chapter on the origin of life was written by Dr Gail Vines, who at the time was Biology Editor of New Scientist:

"A chicken-and-egg problem ... There is a further problem (although this affects all the theories, not just the `genes-first' hypothesis) in explaining how the relationship between RNA and proteins originated. In the process of translation whereby proteins are produced ... it is the order of bases on the messenger RNA that determines the order of amino acids in the protein. But there is no inherent attraction between the codons on the mRNA and the amino acids- translation occurs via a code, and in order to interpret that code, both a transfer molecule and a synthetase enzyme (a protein) are needed. Since the synthetase enzyme itself is a product of translation, it is very difficult to imagine how the system could have originated. ... How did the relationship between DNA (or RNA) and proteins begin? The basis of all life today is the ability of DNA and RNA to produce specific proteins. But they do this via a code, and the translation of that code requires two principal factors, a synthetase enzyme and a transfer RNA, as well as the help of the ribosomes. It is very difficult to imagine a simple version of the system from which the translation mechanism seen today could have evolved." (Gamlin L. & Vines G., eds, "The Structure of Living Organisms," Guild Publishing: London, 1989, p.23. My emphasis)
I have added this to the outline of my book "Problems of Evolution", PE 7.4.6 "Problems for all naturalistic origin of life theories ... How the relationship between nucleic acids (RNA/DNA) originated."

Since the success of all (not "most") "prebiotic simulation experiments actually owe their success to the crucial but illegitimate role of the investigator":

"Over the years a slowly emerging line or boundary has appeared which shows observationally the limits of what can be expected from matter and energy left to themselves, and what can be accomplished only through what Michael Polanyi has called `a profoundly informative intervention.' [Polanyi M., "Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry," Chemical Engineering News, August 21, 1967, p.54]. When it is acknowledged that most so-called prebiotic simulation experiments actually owe their success to the crucial but illegitimate role of the investigator, a new and fresh phase of the experimental approach to life's origin can then be entered. Until then however, the literature of chemical evolution will probably continue to be dominated by reports of experiments in which the investigator, like a metabolizing Maxwell Demon, will have performed work on the system through intelligent, exogenous intervention. Such work establishes experimental boundary conditions, and imposes intelligent influence/control over a supposedly `prebiotic' earth. As long as this informative interference of the investigator is ignored, the illusion of prebiotic simulation will be fostered. We would predict that this practice will prove to be a barrier to solving the mystery of life's origin." (Thaxton C.B., Bradley W.L. & Olsen R.L., "The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories," [1984], Lewis & Stanley: Dallas TX, 1992, Second printing, p.185. Emphasis original)
which was virtually admitted by atheist origin of life specialist Robert Shapiro:
"As long as the proper design and components were maintained, however, the same product mixture, including the amino acids, was obtained. Miller took great pains in demonstrating that the products were exactly what he claimed them to be, and that they had been produced by the chemical discharge, not by an accidental introduction of biological material. The overall yields could vary, however. Twenty years after his first studies, Miller wrote: `It was surprising that the yields of amino acids from these first experiments are the highest so far reported in any prebiotic experiment of this type.' Thus on his first two tries, he had obtained the worst and the best possible results. One clear message should emerge from this discussion. A variety of results may be possible from the same general type of experiment. The experimenter, by manipulating apparently unimportant variables, can affect the outcome profoundly. The data that he reports may be valid, but if only these results are communicated, a false impression may arise concerning the universality of the process. This situation was noticed by a Creationist writer, Martin Lubenow, who commented: `I am convinced that in every origin of life experiment devised by evolutionists, the intelligence of the experimenter is involved in such a way as to prejudice the experiment.' [Lubenow M.L., "From Fish To Gish: The Exciting Drama of a Decade of Creation-Evolution Debates," CLP Publishers: San Diego CA, 1983, pp.168-169]" (Shapiro R.D., "Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Origin of Life," Summit: New York NY, 1986, p.103. My emphasis)
Indeed, in a later book, Shapiro regarded the attempt to make a "self-sustained RNA evolving system ... in the laboratory" as "the demonstration of a crucial step in the origin of life" but "The concept that the scientists are illustrating is one of intelligent design" because the "chemists are using all the ingenuity and technical resources at their disposal" (my emphasis):
"It is probably only a matter of time, to be measured in years rather than decades, before a self-sustained RNA evolving system can be demonstrated in the laboratory. This would be a case in which a DNA-and protein-based life form, namely a human biochemist, gives rise to an RNA-based life form, an interesting reversal of the sequence of events that occurred during the early history of life on Earth. When that event takes place, the media will probably announce it as the demonstration of a crucial step in the origin of life. I would agree, with one modification. The concept that the scientists are illustrating is one of intelligent design. No better term can be applied to a quest in which chemists are attempting to prepare a living system in the laboratory, using all the ingenuity and technical resources at their disposal. Whether they use synthetic chemicals or materials isolated from nature, we would be justified in calling the living system artificial or human-made life." (Shapiro R., "Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life beyond Earth," John Wiley & Sons: New York NY, 1999, p.104. My emphasis).
Shapiro continues likening the RNA ribozme-first theory to the idea that a golf ball could play its own way around a difficult course at well under par without the golfer!:
"The search for ribozymes evokes the same feeling of achievement and beauty in me that I get when I see a skilled golfer playing a difficult course at well under par. To imagine that related events could take place on their own appears as likely as the idea that the golf ball could play its own way around the course without the golfer. We can, of course imagine that natural forces would lend a helping hand. A hurricane could move the ball down the course, and occasional floods might "putt" the ball into the hole. A small earthquake could then remove it and place it on the next tee. Perhaps each of these events could be simulated if we tried hard enough. But to insist that all of these events be linked together and move in an appropriate direction puts our origin into the realm of Morowitz's odds ["1 chance in 10100,000,000,000"]." (Shapiro R., "Planetary Dreams: The Quest to Discover Life beyond Earth," John Wiley & Sons: New York NY, 1999, p.104. My emphasis)
I therefore propose that the ID movement seek (and be granted) public funds to investigate the origin of life under the Intelligent Design paradigm, that is open to intelligent causal explanations. The successful theory would then be the one that explains in detail all (or failing that, most), of the known facts, using intelligent causal explanations. In the event of two or more competing theories which explain equally well in detail the same number of facts, the successful theory would be the simplest.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"THIS is atheism: for every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation. I mean that the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtlety, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety: yet, in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently mechanically not less evidently contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity." (Paley W., "Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature," [1802], St. Thomas Press: Houston, TX, 1972, reprint, p.14)

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