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

Arthur V. Chadwick (
Tue, 11 May 1999 10:38:29 -0700

At 09:41 AM 5/11/99 -0400, Moorad wrote:
>I do not know the literature but I am sure that there are well-known
>scientists who are very critical of the claim that the protocells of Fox are

Although Fox had a national reputation, his professional colleagues at
University of Miami who were biologists/biochemists considered him to be a
bit of a charlatan. They seemed not to have much respect for his science,
and occasionally they would poke fun at his work in classes. But mostly
they regarded his work as irrelevant to origin of life. Wm. Day ("Genesis
on planet earth: the search for life's beginning." 2nd ed. Yale Univ Press.
1984.) has stated "No matter how you look at it, [Fox's work] is scientific
nonsense. " I think this attitude was pretty general among those who
understood the complexity of life, especially biochemists. Of course there
are plenty of scientists who take exception to his claims, and some of them
have already been posted in this thread. But mostly, his work is justly
ignored by origin of life advocates, who consider it periferal.

But the whole issue of what constitutes a living cell, and thus defines
what a "protocell" has to be is not that difficult to understand. If a
candidate for a "protocell" is surrounded by a chemical membrane capable of
discriminating the passage of ions and important biological molecules, if
it contains encoded information and is capable of precisely replicating its
information so that daughter cells contain the same information as the
parent, if the cell is carrying out this process of replication and
synthesis of new materials, and is truly not at chemical equilibrium with
its environment, then it might be considered a candidate for a "protocell".
Anything else is just chopped liver. In considering the origin of the
first cell, Green and Goldberger ("Molecular insights into living process."
Academic Press. 1967): called the origin of the first cell from non-living
precursors "...a jump of fantastic dimensions, which lies beyond the range
of testable hypothesis. In this area, all is conjecture. The available
facts do not provide a basis for postulating that cells arose on this
planet." Nothing has been discovered in the last 30 years that would lead
me to think this statement is less valid today.