Re: Life in the Lab -- A Challenge for Art Chadwick
Wed, 12 May 1999 00:33:34 EDT

In a message dated 5/11/99 10:13:06 AM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> 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.

To use your own words against you: "References, please." Specifically, give
us references in which a significant number of his Miami colleagues
effectively say, "Fox is a bit of a charlatan." I could find no such
negative references when I did my search, and my contacts at Miami have
nothing but praise for Fox. They did after all nominate him for the Nobel
Prize on a frequent basis.

> They seemed not to have much respect for his science,
> and occasionally they would poke fun at his work in classes.

If true (support it with references) then they are a distinct minority
compared to the dozens of scientists world-wide who have reproduced and added
to Fox's work. Certainly the biologists/biochemists at Southern Illinois
University at Carbondale have great respect for Fox; they do not think of him
as a charlatan.

> But mostly
> they regarded his work as irrelevant to origin of life.

Again, I would like to see some references to that effect, but their opinion
is irrelevent to the evidence. What evidence do they have that Fox is wrong,
or is all they have just opinion?

> 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."

What evidence does he present to support that conclusion? What does he say
is wrong with Fox's work? Or is he simply dismissing Fox's work out of hand?
Besides, that book is now 15 years old; maybe Day has changed his mind?

> I think this attitude was pretty general among those who
> understood the complexity of life, especially biochemists.

I was unable to "prove" that the consensus among biologists is that Fox
synthesized life in the lab, but consensus does not mean unanimity. Just
because you can quote a few biologists claiming that Fox's work is nonsense
does not disprove the existence of that consensus. Besides, as I have
continuously pointed out, opinion (even consensus) is irrelevant. Evidence
is all that is relevant, and the evidence demonstrates that Fox synthesized
life in the lab. Can you provide references giving any evidence, any at all,
that proves Fox is wrong?

> Of course there
> are plenty of scientists who take exception to his claims, and some of them
> have already been posted in this thread.

Who, besides you? Is Moorad a scientist? He implies it, but he won't
confirm it with details. Let's assume that he is. You are the only two I'm
aware of and neither of you are biologists. On top of that, Moorad had
admitted that he doesn't know the literature and I have demonstrated that
your understanding of Fox's work and biology in general is shallow and rotten
with misconceptions. Are there any biologists on the list who dispute the
evidence? I would like to hear from them.

> But mostly, his work is justly
> ignored by origin of life advocates, who consider it periferal.

Not among the the cell-first, protein-first people, and they seem to publish
the bulk of the papers in abiotic research. And most of them are
biologists/biochemists who study microspheres they make in their own lab.

> 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.

Strange. In an earlier post you implied that it was; what made you change
your mind?

> If a candidate for a "protocell" is surrounded by a chemical membrane....

The proper term is biological 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".

Fox has demonstrated that his proteinoid microspheres meet all those
criteria, and dozens of scientists world-wide have demonstrated it as well.

> 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.

That's because you refuse to look at the evidence. When Green and Goldberg
wrote that, the biochemical paradigms were that a living cell required
hideously complex metabolism, an advanced genetic system was required to
synthesize biomacromolecules, amino acids could not assemble into proteins
without a template (and even if they could they would simply make
nonfunctional polypeptides with random sequences), and that polypeptides
could not by themselves act as carriers and transmitters of information. Yet
by 1967 Fox had already demonstrated that these paradigms were false, and the
evidence was convincing enough that only **three years later** Lehninger
could write a chapter of his biochemical textbook in which he proposed
exactly the opposite scenario from Green and Goldberg. It is now generally
accepted that a protocell would not require a complex metabolic system, it
would not require any form of genetic system to synthesize biomacromolecules,
that amino acids not only can self-assemble without a template they can also
form functional polypeptides with nonrandom sequences, and that polypeptides
alone can carry and transmit information.

All right, let's get this out on the table. Art challenged me to provide
some evidence that life had been synthesized in the lab. I have now done so.
Therefore, I now challenge Art to provide some evidence that Fox was wrong.
Not opinion, but real evidence based on real experimental research just like
I did.

How about it, Art; feel up to the challenge?

Kevin L. O'Brien