Origins of Life #2

Spending numerous hours over the last couple of days on the literature surrounding ‘Origins of Life’, it has been a very exciting read. I cannot believe I never thought about this question yet – how did biological life evolve from chemical compounds? On the positive side, it means my exercise of flexing the idea muscle is not useless.

When I deeply think about our lives, the level of intelligence achieved by human species is just mind boggling. In fact, not just humans, the complexity of the tiniest simplest living creatures is so huge that we cannot yet fathom how such creatures came into being. How did a bunch of molecules end up being smart enough to develop into even a single cell? Mind you, one cell in today’s human body consists of millions and millions of molecules. Considering even the prehistoric times of 3 to 4 billion years ago when life is estimated to have originated, a set of molecules would have decided to bunch together. Why on God’s Earth would life spark in them? What would make them want to think about reproduction? Why would they not just let themselves be and collide/fuse/break among themselves and play around? Why would they want to develop themselves into something that is preservation-worthy; something that needs food and energy from the environment and then even be able to store information that can be passed down through generations?

It is incredibly fascinating and helps understand the fact that it took millions of years for us to evolve. However, the question about the first spark still remains? Why and how did those non-living molecules evolve to a living cell? Could it actually be a supernatural power (not as the God humans currently believe in, but some microbe from a faraway planet)? Or is it the primordial soup that the literature talks about that is difficult to fathom by the current human brain? Such a primordial soup would have lots of chemical reactions taking place that would lead to more and more complex molecular structures.

There are two ways to break down the problem here: (1) bottom-up approach where we aim to understand how these chemical compounds could have given birth to a cell (possibly the most important cellular component being a cell membrane as that allows the cell to first protect itself from the environment and then allow itself even a chance to evolve). This is the approach I briefly discussed above in even trying to understand the situation.

(2) There is also the second top-down approach, where we study the current cellular structure and then gradually break down its components to understand the absolute necessary pieces required to sustain life. Here, we understand the three key components – one, RNA, two, DNA and three, protein. As I currently understand, RNA can serve the dual purpose of DNA (carrying genetic information) and the protein (enzymes carrying metabolic reactions for energy etc.). Hence, many scientists believe the origins of life to be RNA-only world.

Obviously, I have barely even scratched the surface of this subject. I am sure the answers are not easy to get and fathom as the implications would be far-reaching. If we can create life out of non-living things, I mean – simply put – wouldn’t we become Gods? Clearly, huge moral implications for the human race, but also importantly, the scientific world would simply explode.

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