COME with us, as we tour the Retirement Home for Obsolete Miracles — that dismal residence where such fading idols as spirit-caused disease, Apollo’s sun chariot, and other myths that once “explained” natural aspects of the world now live out their dotage, reminiscing about their glory days.
Look, over in the corner — there’s poor ol’ lightning, one of the home’s oldest residents, mumbling to himself about the bygone days when he was the fearsome instrument of Zeus’ wrath. And there are so many others, long-forgotten beliefs of long-forgotten nations, the superstitions of humanity’s childhood.
In another corner, there are chairs reserved for some who are still on the outside, where they enjoy a twilight existence during which they are still admired by a dwindling flock of believers. There’s a chair reserved for creationism, with another beside it for intelligent design. And there’s one for UFO-borne, probe-wielding aliens. As the cruel centuries go by, the residence has been filling up. One by one, the barely-surviving miracles accept the inevitable and move in, taking their places in the Great Hall of vanished glories. It’s a sad place, but it’s better to dwell here, with ancient colleagues, than to be on the outside enduring universal laughter.
At the moment, a flurry of excitement is running through the home’s residents. They’re expecting a new lodger to move in soon. She’s outside now, pacing around, reluctant to knock on the door. But her luggage is out there on the lawn too, so she’s just delaying her inescapable destiny. Who is she? She certainly looks ready to retire — a bit hefty, haggard, hair obviously dyed, way too much makeup, bazooms sagging down to her waist — but she’s obviously somebody. Or at least she was.
Then ol’ lightning peers out the window. He squints. A sudden look of recognition appears on his face. He whispers: “That’s the origin of life! Poor thing. We used to strut around together, but that was long ago. I hear she’s been living in a trailer near a saw mill, to be close to her last-remaining followers. Sometimes she goes to the bowling alley for a big night on the town. She used to be gorgeous, but she’s been letting herself go in recent years. She knew the end was coming. It’s so sad.”
Yes, the origin of life — the world’s longest-running miracle — is about to become permanent guest at the Retirement Home. It’s a pitiful end for a grand old gal. Here’s the story:
Nature reports RNA world easier to make, subtitled: “Ingenious chemistry shows how nucleotides may have formed in the primordial soup.” Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:
An elegant experiment has quashed a major objection to the theory that life on Earth originated with molecules of RNA.
Interested? Of course you are. Let’s read on:
John Sutherland and his colleagues from the University of Manchester, UK, created a ribonucleotide, a building block of RNA, from simple chemicals under conditions that might have existed on the early Earth.
Why is that important? We continue:
The feat, never performed before, bolsters the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis, which suggests that life began when RNA, a polymer related to DNA that can duplicate itself and catalyse reactions, emerged from a prebiotic soup of chemicals.
There’s wailing and rending of clothing at a certain Seattle think tank. Here’s more:
“This is extremely strong evidence for the RNA world. We don’t know if these chemical steps reflect what actually happened, but before this work there were large doubts that it could happen at all,” says Donna Blackmond, a chemist at Imperial College London.
One last excerpt:
Sutherland points out that the sequence of steps he uses is consistent with early-Earth scenarios — those involving methods such as heating molecules in water, evaporating them and irradiating them with ultraviolet light. And breaking RNA’s synthesis down into small, laboratory-controlled steps is merely a pragmatic starting point, he says, adding that his team also has results showing that they can string nucleotides together, once they have formed. “My ultimate goal is to get a living system (RNA) emerging from a one-pot experiment. We can pull this off. We just need to know what the constraints on the conditions are first.”
Life hasn’t been created yet. The creationists still have a bit of wiggle room. But soon …
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