Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

Moorad Alexanian (
Mon, 03 May 1999 09:09:54 -0400

Dear Kevin,

I am not averse to the possibility that life can be synthesized in the lab.
Such thoughts are good working hypotheses that drive good scientists like
Fox. My point is that it hasn't been accomplished. The transition from dead
matter to living matter is a tough one.

Thanks for the article,


-----Original Message-----
From: <>
To: <>;
<>; <>
Date: Sunday, May 02, 1999 2:10 PM
Subject: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize

>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
>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
>his groundbreaking work showing how living cells can be formed from
>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
>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
>of all time," said Randall Grubbs, Fox's research assistant for the past
>"I was tremendously impressed with his insight into what I call the
>of life on this planet," said Henry Stanford, president of the University
>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
>USA's marine science department.
>Fox's global fame first came 40 years ago, when he was able to show how
>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
>At the time of that discovery, he was director of the Oceanographic
>at Florida State University.
>He expanded his work at the University of Miami, and worked with the
>Aeronautic and Space Administration in an effort to determine if
>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
>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
>science, as was the Catholic Church after it excommunicated Galileo, who
>demonstrated that the Earth is not the center of the universe. This past
>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
>creationists, those who believe life began because of divine intervention,
>Grubbs said. "He often said, 'the miracle is in the molecules,'" Grubbs
>"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,
>who herself is a chemist and is now in Mercy Medical Center in Daphne; and
>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