Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize
Sun, 2 May 1999 14:08:24 EDT

Greetings to One and All:

Maybe Moorad Alexanian has a point after all. There are many people who
believe that, if anyone should have received the Nobel Prize for synthsizing
life in the lab, it was Sidney Fox.

I copied this from the website I posted earlier:


USA scientist credited with discovering life's origins

By William Rabb
Staff Reporter (From The Mobile Register, August 28, 1998, Page 1.)

In the beginning, so the theory goes, the amino acids organized themselves
into precursors of living cells. About 4 billion years later, on Aug. 10,
1998, the University of South Alabama scientist who proclaimed then
demonstrated that theory in the laboratory - and influenced the pope and a
generation of scientists in the process --died at age 86.

Sidney W. Fox, a man some colleagues say should have won the Nobel Prize for
his groundbreaking work showing how living cells can be formed from inanimate
material, was perhaps best-known outside of Alabama. After research at NASA
and at major universities around the country, he spent the last four years of
his life at USA, working almost until the day he died.

"I really feel like he was one of the greatest biologists of his time, if not
of all time," said Randall Grubbs, Fox's research assistant for the past two

"I was tremendously impressed with his insight into what I call the emergence
of life on this planet," said Henry Stanford, president of the University of
Miami while Fox was there. "I think he really discovered how life emerged,
and I nominated him for a Nobel prize each of the last, sixty years."

Fox was a native of Los Angeles who earned his bachelor's degree at the
University of California at Los Angeles and his doctorate at California
Institute of Technology.

He arrived at USA in 1994 from the University of Southern Illinois at
Carbondale. He said he wanted a warmer climate in his advancing age, and he
wanted a young, smaller university that would give him a great deal of
professional freedom. He found that as a distinguished research scientist at
USA's marine science department.

Fox's global fame first came 40 years ago, when he was able to show how amino
acids, the building blocks of proteins found in all living things, could
spontaneously organize themselves into "microspheres."

These cell-like structures, in the right conditions -- perhaps like those
found shortly after the Earth was formed -- grow and multiply, Fox showed
time and again in his lab experiments. These spheres also bear a strong
resemblance to fossils of the earliest known living cells, believed to be
more than 3.5 billion years old, according to scientific articles about Fox.
At the time of that discovery, he was director of the Oceanographic Institute
at Florida State University.

He expanded his work at the University of Miami, and worked with the National
Aeronautic and Space Administration in an effort to determine if microscopic
life had existed on the Moon and on Mars. At NASA, he became friends with
Carl Sagan, the Cornell University astronomer known from his television
specials about science. In a 1993 letter to Fox, Sagan explained that
microscopic structures found on Saturn's moon, Titan, looked remarkably like
Fox's microspheres.

Fox may well be one of the few American scientists to ever command an
audience with. the pope. On three occasions, in 1984, 1985 and in 1990, the
Vatican flew Fox to Rome to meet with the pope and papal scientists to
explain his theory on how, life began.

"Why was Pope John Paul II interested in what I might say?" the athletic,
6-foot 4-inch professor said at a May 1997 symposium sponsored by The
Harbinger, a weekly newspaper in Mobile. For one thing, Fox said, the pope,
like anyone else, is interested in where he came from, or rather, "what he
came from."

Secondly, Fox said he believed the pope did not want to be proven wrong about
science, as was the Catholic Church after it excommunicated Galileo, who had
demonstrated that the Earth is not the center of the universe. This past May,
three months before Fox died. the pope revealed his revised thinking about
evolution. He straddled the fence, according to news reports: Evolution
cannot be discounted, but it cannot explain everything about mankind's

"I think Doctor Fox was kind of shocked that the pope would go that far,"
Grubbs said. Fox himself wasn't much for religion, and had butted heads with
creationists, those who believe life began because of divine intervention,
Grubbs said. "He often said, 'the miracle is in the molecules,'" Grubbs said.
"He stood in awe of the power of nature to self-select -- to organize

Fox, whose remains were cremated, is survived by his wife of 60 years, Raia,
who herself is a chemist and is now in Mercy Medical Center in Daphne; and by
his three sons: Lawrence Fox, a distinguished biotech researcher at
Northwestern University's Evanston Hospital; Ronald Fox, a physicist at
Georgia Tech University; and Thomas Fox, associate dean for graduate
education at Harvard University.


It's against the rules for a Nobel Prize to be awarded posthumously, so now
that Fox is dead he can never receive one.

Still, I wonder if based on this Moorad would now acknowledge at least the
possibility that life has been synthesized in the lab.

Kevin L. O'Brien