Sep 30 2008

Whither the RNA?

Category: Evolution,scienceharmonicminer @ 8:46 am

Some interesting work is being done in trying to create artificial life.

What most researchers agree on is that the very first functioning life would have had three basic components: a container, a way to harvest energy and an information carrier like RNA or another nucleic acid.

Szostak’s earlier work has shown that the container probably took the form of a layer of fatty acids that could self-assemble based on their reaction to water (see video). One tip of the acid is hydrophilic, meaning it’s attracted to water, while the other tip is hydrophobic. When researchers put a lot of these molecules together, they circle the wagons against the water and create a closed loop.

These membranes, with the right mix of chemicals, can allow nucleic acids in under some conditions and keep them trapped inside in others.

That opens the possibility that one day, in the distant past, an RNA-like molecule wandered into a fatty acid and started replicating. That random event, through billions of evolutionary iterations, researchers

You have to love that phrase, “…an RNA-like molecule wandered into a fatty acid and started replicating.” Where’d the RNA molecule come from? Here’s an idea about it.  It’s all, uh, gobbledygook to me, so I leave the evaluation to others.  But in the science journalism area, I haven’t seen much made of this, and the biologists I’ve read still seem to find a fundamental disconnect between the kind of conditions that might have allowed spontaneous development of protein and those that would allow even the survival of RNA.  It seems to be a chicken/egg problem…  with the logical difficulty of rules which state you can’t have chickens without eggs, and you can’t have eggs without chickens, so both have to begin simultaneously, and no one really has an idea for how that could have happened.

The one thing that everyone seems to admit….  there is no evidence that any of these things are what actually happened.

I have no idea if scientists will eventually create “life”.  If they do, it seems likely that it will be a kludge compared to the elegance of the cell.  But one possible offshoot from this could be some incredible nanotechnology…

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Jul 23 2008

Jerry Pournelle on education, Intelligent Design, etc.

Jerry Pournelle (the wikipedia article linked here gives short shrift to Pournelle’s science and engineering background) has some thoughts on the dangers of trying to ban the teaching of Intelligent Design in the schools, and he starts with the background of public education and goes from there.

What is the purpose of public schools? One looks in vain for guidance in the Constitution of the US, or in the early constitutions of most states. Education didn’t become a right until well after the Civil War, and didn’t become a federal right until fairly recently.

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