Thursday, October 05, 2006

His goal: to unravel the origins of life, etc

His goal: to unravel the origins of life, The Boston Globe, September 25, 2006, Andrew Rimas ...

[Graphic: RNA attached to clay particles encapsulated within a vesicle, Scientific American]

Jack Szostak, a professor of genetics at Harvard University and a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, is exploring the origins of life by trying to recreate the first sputterings of evolutionary biology in a test tube. Through the process of hatching simple cells in the laboratory, he's looking to discover how life emerged from the earth's ancient chemical soup."We're doing physical chemistry, synthetic chemistry, molecular biology, cloning, and sequencing," says Szostak, 53. "The exciting science is all happening on the edges of the disciplines."As a participant in Harvard's "Origins of Life in the Universe" initiative, Szostak is one of many researchers from fields as diverse as astronomy and biology working together to unveil the mysteries of what happened on earth four billion years ago. One of the topics Szostak's laboratory has studied is how a particular type of clay, when mixed with fatty acids and RNA -- molecules that can carry genetic information -- might have led to the formation of the first cells."Cell membranes self-assemble under the right conditions," says Szostak. "If you sprinkle a little bit of clay into these reactions, it speeds them up." Thus we can imagine that a particular type of mineral surface -- one that earth happens to possess -- promotes the assembly of cell membranes, and hence the development of life. .... See also these 2003 articles on Szostak's RNA-clay theory": CNN, Harvard Gazette, HHMI, New Scientist, San Francisco Chronicle, Science, Scientific American. Szostak's "Cell membranes self-assemble under the right conditions," is an example of two of the central self-delusions of naturalistic origin of life research.

First, it isn't enough to show that "Cell membranes" (or anything else) "self-assemble under the right conditions." What has to happen is for genes to direct the synthesis and assembly of cell membranes. Otherwise, the self-assembly would only last the first generation! And even if spontaneous self-assembly of membranes happened in each generation (which it doesn't) , at some point genes had to take over and start directing the assembly of cell membranes, as they do in all organisms. And how could (or why would) genes start to direct the assembly of cell membranes if it was already happening spontaneously in each generation?

The second central self-delusion is the "under the right conditions." The problem is that there are different "right conditions" for each component, but in the real world, the origin of life would have had to happen under one set of "right conditions," all at the same time and same place!

Significantly, in the 2003 HHMI article Szostak emphasised, "We are not claiming that this is how life started," admitted that his process was only "vaguely analogous to biological cell division," and "how this pathway leads to biological systems is not at all straightforward," and that he needs to "demonstrate more natural ways this might have happened."

Here are some of the problems of RNA assembly on mineral surfaces:

"RNA Assembly on Mineral Surfaces In the mid-1990s, researchers Leslie Orgel and James Ferris stirred excitement within the scientific community by assembling lengthy RNA molecules from chemically activated RNA subunits (nucleotides)[Nature, 18 Jan 96 & 2 May 96]. This assembly was accomplished by washing solutions of the reactants over mineral surfaces, then allowing the solutions to evaporate. Commentators heralded this work as a key demonstration that prebiotic conditions could have produced self-replicators. Closer evaluation of this effort, however, prompts a different conclusion. As Shapiro points out, Orgel's and Ferris's teams conducted these experiments under selective conditions that excluded potential chemical interferents. The homopolymer problem was ignored. To prove the point, Orgel's team demonstrated that even the incorporation of opposite-handed nucleotides ... disrupts RNA chain formation. Orgel's team also showed that though mineral surfaces may promote RNA formation, they also catalyze its decomposition. RNA breakdown occurs on surfaces of both lead-containing and calcium-containing minerals. In addition, these workers discovered that the amino acids glutamate and histidine stimulate the breakdown of RNA in a solution. A Japanese team demonstrated that rare Earth elements (like cerium) present in the primordial oceans would have catalyzed the breakdown of the RNA backbone linkage. Inhibition of this cleavage would require an unrealistically high level of proteins in the early oceans. Other problems for mineral-assisted RNA formation include (1) the irreversible attachment of RNA to mineral surfaces once the molecular chain grows to a certain length and (2) researchers' use of `activated' monomers unlikely to occur under prebiotic conditions. Also, the clay catalysts must be carefully treated to remove all metal ions except sodium. If not, no catalytic reactions occur. The bottom line is: Laboratory simulation experiments that synthesize RNA on mineral surfaces differ substantially from early Earth's conditions. When scientists consider more realistic scenarios, they quickly discover that homopolymer assembly could not have occured in the prebiotic realm." (Rana, F.R. & Ross, H.N., "Origins of Life: Biblical And Evolutionary Models Face Off," Navpress: Colorado Springs CO, 2004, pp.116-118. Emphasis original. References omitted)

Australian researchers back hobbit claims, ABC/Reuters, October 2, 2006. ? Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) are backing claims that the discovery of the so-called hobbit in Indonesia does represent a new species of human. .... In a new paper [they] ... reject claims that the skeleton of a hobbit-like species was simply a very short human with a rare brain disease. ANU Professor Colin Groves says after analysing the evidence, he has no doubt the discovery represents a new species of human. ... Groves says the evidence speaks for itself. "Aspects of the shape of the skull are completely outside modern humans," he said. "The shape of the earhole in the skull, the shape of the forehead and the back of the skull, all these things are way outside. "The limb proportions are quite different from those seen in any modern humans that I've ever heard of." ... Sounds like my Australopithecus theory (01-Oct-06; 21-May-06; 16-Oct-05; 16-Sep-05) is still a possibility, as per this 2004 article: "Groves ... said the earhole, palate, pelvis, tibia and femur of the Hobbit were more similar to another type of early human, Australopithecus, than Homo." (Salleh, A., "Experts split over human Hobbit remains," ABC, 29 October 2004).

Professor is putting centre to the test, Cambridge Evening News, 3 October 2006 ... Prof John Rust may be wearing a black shirt, and talking a lot about eugenics, but don't get the wrong idea about the UK's only professor of psychometrics, now resident in Cambridge. After an already distinguished career in psychometrics, the professor came to Cambridge in November to set up The Psychometric Centre, part of Cambridge University's assessment department and likely to become a nice little earner. As well as being a centre for academic research, it will also serve the needs of those who want to use the science of psychometrics in education and in the business world for staff selection. More widely, the science is about understanding the statistics gathered from tests, knowing how to design the tests, and making sure what comes out the other end is going to be reliable and relevant. ... Eugenics is a hard one to talk about, and the PR people in the room fidget uncomfortably as the subject gathers pace. "Psychometrics has been linked with eugenics, and Darwin was involved in it, the idea that people were getting less intelligent because the races having big families were less intelligent than the civilised races who were having fewer children," says Prof Rust. "In the 1920s, tests started to be used in the US to restrict immigration, and in some countries they were used to decide whether or not people could be allowed to reproduce, which, of course, led on to Nazism. ... Note: "Psychometrics has been linked with eugenics, and Darwin was involved in it ... tests ... in some countries ... were used to decide whether or not people could be allowed to reproduce, which, of course, led on to Nazism" (my emphasis)!

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
Genesis 4:17-22. 17Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. 19Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21His brother's name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. 22Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain's sister was Naamah.