Life in the Lab -- Brian's Second Reference
Sun, 2 May 1999 11:58:06 EDT

Greetings to One and All:

My apologies for the delay in posting my essay, but I am waiting on a couple
of interlibrary loans. Meanwhile, I wanted to offer what I believe would be
the second of the five references Brian asked for. It is the webpage for the
Thermal Protein Study Group at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale:




Here is an excerpt from the first issue of _Protocell_, the group's


How life emerged is a problem that has long been considered by many experts
to be imponderable. According to some of us, however, the essential problem
of crossing the chasm from inanimate to animate was addressed between
1971-1981, and then had to be rediscovered later for general awareness. The
trends and cross-currents in thinking are a fascinating problem in the
history and philosophy of science itself. For most viewers, the discovery is
actually a rediscovery reminiscent of Gregor Mendel's establishment of the
science of genetics, to which protobiogenesis is related. A main part of the
reason for this state of intellectual affairs is that the same preconceptions
that made the problem appear to be imponderable originally inhibited general
acceptance of the answer when it was available.

Looking back we can also say that the delayed rediscovery was exacerbated by
the fact that the problem was interdisciplinary. What was needed especially,
but not solely, was a sense of thermodynamics and an awareness of an
evolutionary, process which had a nonlinear vector. The biologists did not
recognize that the chemical aspects of the approach had basically to be
synthetic rather than reductionistic while chemists failed to recognize that
the sine qua non of life is the CELL.

The problem seemed imponderable to many because it was not, practically could
not, be solved by the usual hypothesis-laden approach. Meaningful hypotheses
rest on prior knowledge; in this case of the first cell prior knowledge did
not exist. What was needed was empirical experimentation with various
substances and conditions that might have been relevant to the prebiotic
Earth. More than that, the answer came not out of research on the origin of
life, but out of a search for the origin of protein plus the fortunate
discovery of the reaction of thermal protein to water.

In this volume are presented many explanations for how the preconceptions
were overcome so that the discovered could be rediscovered.

Editor Pappelis stands out as one who has worked back and forth from
essential insights to an integrative overview. This is the route, along with
difficultly arrived at verifiability, to understanding evolution in its
various phases. Editor Pappelis has taught himself to meet these requirements
at the same time he was identifying them. It is in the context of these
philosophies that the problem could be solved.


The rest of the issue gives references to the group's most recent work, and
it reproduces a symposium Fox gave to the Pope and his scientists. I will be
posting a text version of that symposium once I know this post has propogated.


Kevin L. O'Brien