Creationists are always reminding us that life has never been created in the lab. Then they usually go on to say that it’s impossible for life to form naturally — but when making that claim, they ignore another favorite claim of theirs, that the universe was created for life.
We’ve been waiting for researchers to simulate early-Earth conditions and show that life can naturally arise in that environment. Today we found what looks like big news, which will, no doubt, either be ignored or bitterly attacked by creationists. At the Physorg website, their headline is Life’s building blocks form in replicated deep sea vents. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
Chimney-like mineral structures on the seafloor could have helped create the RNA molecules that gave rise to life on Earth and hold promise to the emergence of life on distant planets. Scientists think Earth was born roughly 4.54 billion years ago. Life on Earth may be nearly that old with recent findings suggesting that life might have emerged only about 440 million years after the planet formed.
Most creationists don’t like all those billions of years, but that’s not what they’ll find to be the worst part of this article. We’re told:
However, it remains a mystery how life might have first arisen. The main building blocks of life now are DNA, which can store genetic data, and proteins, which include enzymes that can direct chemical reactions. However, DNA requires proteins in order to form, and proteins need DNA to form, raising the chicken-and-egg question of how protein and DNA could have formed without each other.
To resolve this conundrum, scientists have suggested that life may have first primarily depended on compounds known as RNA. These molecules can store genetic data like DNA, serve as enzymes like proteins, and help create both DNA and proteins. Later DNA and proteins replaced this “RNA world” because they are more efficient at their respective functions, although RNA still exists and serves vital roles in biology.
Nothing new so far. Let’s read on:
However, it remains uncertain how RNA might have arisen from simpler precursors in the primordial soup that existed on Earth before life originated. Like DNA, RNA is complex and made of helix-shaped chains of smaller molecules known as nucleotides. One way that RNA might have first formed is with the help of minerals, such as metal hydrides. These minerals can serve as catalysts, helping create small organic compounds from inorganic building blocks. Such minerals are found at alkaline hydrothermal vents on the seafloor.
Now we’re getting to the vents. The story continues:
Alkaline hydrothermal vents are also home to large chimney-like structures rich in iron and sulfur. Prior studies suggested that ancient counterparts of these chimneys might have isolated and concentrated organic molecules together, spurring the origin of life on Earth. To see how well these chimneys support the formation of strings of RNA, researchers synthesized chimneys by slowly injecting solutions containing iron, sulfur and silicon into glass jars. Depending on the concentrations of the different chemicals used to grow these structures, the chimneys were either mounds with single hollow centers or, more often, spires and “chemical gardens” with multiple hollow tubes.
Aha!, exclaim the creationists. The researchers had to synthesize their own chimneys. They were designed! But that won’t be good enough. The response is that if the chimneys could be made in the lab, then no miracle was needed to create them.
Then there are several paragraphs about experiments the researchers performed, using “chimney structures that looked like something one might encounter in the darker regions of Tolkien’s Middle Earth,” for example:
The chimneys were grown in liquids and gases resembling the oceans and atmosphere of early Earth. The liquids were acidic and enriched with iron, while the gases were rich in nitrogen and had no oxygen. The scientists then poked syringes up the chimneys to pump alkaline solutions containing a variety of chemicals into the model oceans. This simulated ancient vent fluid seeping into primordial seas.
We’ll skip the details, which you can read for yourself. Here’s what we’re told about the results:
These experiments for the first time demonstrate that RNAs can form in alkaline hydrothermal chimneys, albeit synthetic ones.
That’s an important result. This is from the end:
The scientists detailed their findings in the July 22 issue of the journal Astrobiology.
July 22? And we’re just being told about it now? Ah well, here’s a link to the published paper: RNA Oligomerization in Laboratory Analogues of Alkaline Hydrothermal Vent Systems. All you can see is the abstract, unless you have a subscription.
We haven’t heard from the usual creationist websites about this research. This sort of thing is like a dagger in the heart of creationism, so they can’t ignore it. Their reaction should be fun. They’ll have to come up with something better than claiming that their magical designer is the one who created the vents.
These are terrible times for creationists. Year by year, the domain of the unknown — in which they thrive — is shrinking. But there will always be unknowns, so there will always be creationists.
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