Artificial molecules

Origins research is beginning to really heat up (hilarious pun intended). One team of researchers is working with RNA (but then again, who isn’t?)

A new molecule that performs the essential function of life – self-replication – could shed light on the origin of all living things.

If that wasn’t enough, the laboratory-born ribonucleic acid (RNA) strand evolves in a test tube to double itself ever more swiftly.

“Obviously what we’re trying to do is make a biology,” says Gerald Joyce, a biochemist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. He hopes to imbue his team’s molecule with all the fundamental properties of life: self-replication, evolution, and function.

By building a molecule that can self-replicate, Joyce’s team has shown a pretty solid principle of how scientists believe life began: begin with something simple which makes copies of itself, then…

Not content with achieving one hallmark of life in the lab, Joyce and Lincoln sought to evolve their molecule by natural selection. They did this by mutating sequences of the RNA building blocks, so that 288 possible ribozymes could be built by mixing and matching different pairs of shorter RNAs.

What came out bore an eerie resemblance to Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest: a few sequences proved winners, most losers. The victors emerged because they could replicate fastest while surrounded by competition, Joyce says.

As Joyce notes, this isn’t truly life. It’s a very promising experiment, however, and that’s where the excitement lay. By inducing mutations, evolution began to take place. It’s so simple a child can understand it.

2 Responses

  1. This is of course a great example of intelligent design at work:

    Joyce’s chemicals are technically hacked RNA enzymes, much like the ones we have in our bodies, but they don’t behave anything like those in living creatures. But, these synthetic RNA replicators do provide a model for evolution — and shed light on one step in the development of early living systems from on a lifeless globe.

    They spent eight years working on them to get them to do what they wanted:

    The researchers began with pairs of enzymes they’ve been tweaking and designing for the past eight years. Each member of the pairs can only reproduce with the help of the other member.

    And they admit it still leaves open the question of how the original chemistry came about in the first place (minus eight years of work by an intlligent designer that is)

    “This is a nice example of the robustness of the RNA world hypothesis,” he said. However, “it still leaves the problem of how RNA first came about. Some type of self-replicating molecule likely proceeded RNA and what this was is the big unknown at this point.”

    I would think this is ID research in that it verifies the notion that an intlligence can, and is neccesary to begin a system of replicating information systems.

    Of course, we still have that little issue of these not actually being living cells that do something, which of course requires an entire set of cellular machinery which will require significant additional work by intelligent designers further verifying the ID premise.

    One other note – the article stops with ‘three mutants dominating the population’ which pretty much fits computer models of the same sort that stop after a certain point because there is a limit to which a certain pool of information can actually change by itself through simple recombination – this would seem to be further verification of the necessity of intelligent input as ID would predict.

  2. I would think this is ID research in that it verifies the notion that an intlligence can, and is neccesary to begin a system of replicating information systems.

    Let’s tease out that statement. 1) It is not ID research. That does not exist. It is research directed toward discovering how early RNA replicators may have worked. This research will shed light on how the precursors to those replicators may have worked. 2) It does show that an intelligence can begin “a system of replicating information systems”. 3) It does not show that intelligence is necessary for anything. You’ve jumped some logic. Intelligence is being used. From this you’ve concluded it is necessary.

    One other note – the article stops with ‘three mutants dominating the population’ which pretty much fits computer models of the same sort that stop after a certain point because there is a limit to which a certain pool of information can actually change by itself through simple recombination – this would seem to be further verification of the necessity of intelligent input as ID would predict.

    I forgot to list a link, so I don’t know what your source is. I have since added in my source.

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