Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize
Sat, 8 May 1999 02:27:42 EDT

In a message dated 5/7/99 11:40:28 AM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> What theory is this that makes it "theoretically" possible?

I would assume that William is being metaphorical. However, let's instead
assume that I am wrong. The question you ask is valid, but largely

It should be pointed out that Fox's work is nearly all experimental, rather
than theoretical, and there are some results that are frankly mystifying.
For example, as Fox points out in his symposium that I posted some days ago,
protein chemistry would have predicted that a mixture of amino acids in equal
proportions would form peptides of random lengths and compositions, so that
what you would get is a mixture that would be different each time you did the
experiment, would produce few if any catalytic molecules and which would
produce a bumpy but otherwise flat chromatograph if you tried to isolate
these peptides using an HPLC (there would be too many of them to resolve one
from the other and each would have a concentration too low to be detectable).
Instead, howver, what you get are only a few peptides from each mixture and
you get the exact same peptides everytime, assuming you do not change the
mixture. In other words, you get extremely non-random, highly reproducible
peptides, most of which have some form of catalytic activity. Obviously the
formation and folding of the peptides are governed by the laws of chemistry,
but exactly how is still something of a mystery. Yet there can be no doubt
that whatever the cause the experimental results are real.

Other features, however, are no mystery. For example, the formation of the
microspheres themselves is simple amphiphilic chemistry, like you see with
lipids. The point is that these are real phenomena, so they must be governed
by physiochemical forces. We may not know what some of these are forces are
or how they work, but they must be present. As such, living protocells are
theoretically possible because: 1) they are real, so they must be governed
by physiochemical laws; 2) we know what some of those laws are, as well as
the theories behind those laws; and 3) if life was derived from non-living
chemicals then we should be able to reproduce the key events in the lab. It
is only logical.

Kevin L. O'Brien