Law in Biology
One-Pot Problem “Solved”
Evolutionary efforts to envision abiogenesis have been hampered by the need to cook up all life’s building blocks in one pot. Recalling the failings of the famous Miller-Urey experiment and other one-pot approaches, Sutherland’s team decided it “would be difficult” for any of life’s essential chemicals to survive exposure to the conditions needed to produce the others. The reactions interfere with each other if they all happen in the same pot.
Sutherland’s group therefore came up with a different sort of story to carry out the chemistry to get from simple inorganics provided by meteorites to Darwin’s “warm little pond.” Though published in Nature Chemistry with considerable details of the chemistry—and intervention—required to making each step work out just so, each journalist describing the Sutherland’s vision of how life came from random chemical reactions naturally paraphrased that story for public consumption. Rather than quoting the way others have boiled the story down to layman’s terms, I prefer to paraphrase it in layman’s terms this way. The latest story offered to solve the abiogenesis conundrum, then, goes something like this:
A long time ago on a world very different from the one we see today, meteorite bombardment left some simple chemical compounds on hilltops. Later as the rain came down little rivulets began flowing downhill, dissolving and carrying away some of those chemicals and picking up others along the way. And in each of those rivulets a spontaneous chemical reaction started. Not all the chemical reactions were the same, but in each rivulet the reaction was able to keep going because the flowing water carried away the reaction products so the original reactants could make more. Some rivulets picked up additional chemical compounds from the terrain over which they flowed, providing raw materials for another chemical reaction.