Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize
Fri, 7 May 1999 01:31:01 EDT

In a message dated 5/6/99 6:08:14 AM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> Also, in science, we have to be prepared to let our research be
> scrutinised by our peers. It does matter what researchers in the
> same field think. This is what this thread was about: is there a
> widely held view in the abiogenesis research community that the
> essential problems have been solved?


> The goal of this post is to point out that Fox's work has not been
> ignored by his peers, but rather it has been closely scrutinised.
> And the verdict has been: Fox does not have the experimental
> foundation to justify his claim to have solved the "origin of life"
> problem.

I would hardly call the opinion of two scientists (who may or may not have
the experience and expertise to evaluate abiotic research) a "verdict", nor
would I imply as you do that their opinion constitutes the consensus of the
biological community, when during this same time period a dozen or more
researchers who also reviewed Fox's work and came to the exact opposite
conclusion of your two scientists were themselves publishing research reports
that further verified Fox's claim. Also, considering that their books are
over a decade out of date, I would argue that their opinions are no longer
significant. I would be interested to see a summary of Shapiro's reasons for
concluding that Fox's proteinoids have no bearing on the origin of life, but
Casti's book was rendered obsolete the year it was pubished. Fox and his
colleagues had by then been able to demonstrate how protocells could evolve
abiotically, and had shown that protocells could also replicate peptides and
polynucleotides without a genetic system. Either Casti was unaware of that
research or he ignored it, but his opinion is solidly refuted by protocell

Also, considering that this thread is discussing whether life has been
synthesized in the lab, you seem to be implying that anyone who succeeds must
therefore understand how life originated on earth. The problem is that the
two concepts could have little to do with each other. Even Fox has admitted
that. In other words, just because someone succeeds in creating life in the
lab does not mean that we would therefore automatically know exactly how life
originated. At best, the laboratory abiotic synthesis of life would be proof
of concept, demonstrating that the historical abiotic origin of life on earth
is theoretically possible, but it would not necessarily tell us how it
originated. So the question is not what Shapiro and Casti think of Fox's
claim to have figured out how life originated on earth, but whether they
believe his protocells are alive.

And as I have explained before (which you ignored), the fundamental questions
have been answered. What we do not yet know is the most likely mechanism and
the most likely series of events. The people you quote to try to prove that
abiogenesis is some huge mystery are arguing over mechanism and the
historical series of events, not the fundamental questions. I would be
willing to bet that neither Shapiro nor Casti doubt that abiogenesis actually
occurred. And in fact I would also be willing to bet that their own ideas of
how it happened share the same basic assumptions and principles, being as
they are based on the commonly accepted answers to the fundamental questions.

Kevin L. O'Brien