Algorithm discovers how six simple molecules could evolve into life’s

A network of circles connected by lines representing the program's output of finding new pathways to biotic molecules. Each dot represents a compound and each line a reaction.

This schematic of the prebiotic chemistry network shows newly discovered routes to citric acid (left) and uric acid (right) starting from six simple building blocks. Light blue nodes are abiotic molecules, red nodes are other biotic molecules and dark blue nodes are molecules along the syntheses to uric/citric acid

An interesting paper, very close to my area of expertise…


Very interesting. And a very relevant point is the idea that because the number of possible combinations of reactions grows very large it doesn’t mean there isn’t some systematic biases in how it will proceed. These pathways and inherent tendencies of reactivity can’t be worked out on a piece of paper, they have to be simulated or reproduced in experiments.

Answering such questions requires consideration of very large numbers of possible synthetic pathways. Starting with even a few primordial substrates—e.g., H2O, N2, HCN, NH3, CH4, and H2S—the number of prebiotically synthesizable molecules grows rapidly into the tens of thousands. Detailed analysis of this space and its synthetic connectivity may be beyond the cognition of individual chemists but can be performed by smart computer algorithms.

I wonder why CO2 was not considered as part of the relevant feedstock molecules. By all accounts it would have been ubiquitous on early Earth.

This weekend I listened to a YouTube interview Dr. James Tour had given last month. I hadn’t heard of him, but it came up on my feed weeks ago and I finally clicked on it . I enjoyed his presentation, in spite of the yelling. :joy: Based on what he said about media blowing scientific papers on abiogenesis way out of proportion, and then scientists not actually correcting that, I wonder what he’d say about this :slight_smile: Of course, I have very little idea what any of it’s talking about…

I looked through his YouTube channel and saw you had done an interview with him, so that would maybe be interesting to listen to :slight_smile:

This is a real problem, no doubt about it, and definitely something that happens. And it would not be fair to throw all of this problem on science journalists themselves, because the researchers definitely some times contribute to exaggerated claims and optimistic speculations in their public statements.

Tour often spends a lot of gas making it seem as if the origin of life field is somehow unique in this aspect, and I have to say I consider it misleading when he does so. But the problem goes waaay beyond the origin of life field. You can find similar behavior in every scientific field, from Tour’s own of synthetic organic chemistry, through medicine, to engineering and physics. There is no shortage of news and popular-press articles on topics such as the possibility of future cures for cancer, miraculously enhanced materials and nanotechnology for water purification, or what have you.

You can’t get a good sense of this simply by reading popular press articles and university press releases designed to advertise themselves, but there is a very vigorous (and brutal) debate within the origin of life field between many different “camps”, and everyone are much more excited about their own ideas and research, and highly critical and skeptical of their competitors. But you won’t get that impression from hearing Tour’s sermons, which seem designed to leave the impression that it’s all just one giant circle-jerk of wishful thinking with standard scientific debate somehow completely absent.