Re: Life in the Lab -- Review Paper
Tue, 18 May 1999 20:34:06 EDT

In a message dated 5/18/99 1:27:16 PM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

Thank you for your advice.

> I think your main task is philosophical, pushing a definition of 'life'
> that is not familiar.

The definition may be unfamiliar to you, or to the lay public in general, but
it is not unfamiliar to a biologist. However, I will certainly have to
explain that definition if I write the paper for a lay magazine or a
semi-scientific paper, so point well taken.

> But more specifically, I'd like to see it spelled out
> whether you think proteinoid microspheres are part of the history of
> life as we know it, or whether they are a new form of life.

Since the research establishes that they are part of the history of life as
we know it, I will certainly have to discuss that.

> If the former,
> how does the transition occur, from polymerization to DNA, as the
> mechanism for making cells?

If you are asking for the exact protocol, step by excrutiatingly miniscule
step, we may never know that. If however you are asking for what the
experimental research tells us is the most likely chain of events, that is
detailed in the Fox and Dose book that I cited in my earlier responses to
your questions. In a nutshell, proteinoids catalyze the synthesis of
nonrandom polynucleotides using proteinoids as templates; these
polynucleotides can then combine with lysine-rich proteinoids to form
nucleoprotein microspheres that can synthesize nonrandom polypeptides using
the polynucleotides as templates. Once conditions change so that proteinoids
are no longer being polymerized abiotically, the only way that microspheres
will be able to grow is by producing their own proteinoids using their
constituent polynucleotides. At that point, natural selection can take over
to eventually evolve a microsphere that uses nucleic acids instead of any old

> Personally, I think cells arising before DNA seems like houses arising
> before people.

You analogy is rather poor because DNA is nothing like people. However, I
get your point. You are arguing that cells can only be built by information
molecules. Well, proteinoids ARE information molecules, and it has been
demonstrated over and over again that they can spontaneously form cellular
structures. So while your objection is reasonable, it is moot.

> But if this is a whole new kind of life, maybe that's OK.

That's not the case at all. With some minor exceptions, proteinoids and the
polunucleotides they make are very similar to the proteins and nucleic acids
found in modern cells. And protocells possess every property required by
cell theory to be cells save one. In fundamental ways, protocells are no
different from modern cells.

> I do wonder how this method (polymerization) of generating biological
> structures could sustain and develop the detailed information necessary
> for advanced life forms.

In and of themselves they cannot, but long before you had even primitive
prokaryotes you would have protocells using nucleic acids to make proteins,
so again the objection is moot.

> Does the theory normally include incorporating
> DNA at some point?

I've answered that above. See also the Fox and Dose book I cited in my
previous posts.

> I know. Read the literature.

Well, in partial answer to these questions I have already posted a reference
that would answer your questions, but apparently you prefer to keep asking
the same questions over and over again rather than find the answers you're
looking for.

> I hope you realize that your constant
> admonition to read the literature is simply an ad hominem attack....

Oh, please. WHINE ON -- "But Kevin, I don't want to read the literature!"
-- WHINE OFF. That's exactly what you sound like. Give me a break.

Besides, I only tell people to read the literature when they are
pontificating and it's obvious they are wong, but it's also obvious they
won't believe me if I explain it to them. Since you are asking specific
questions, it would be rude not to answer you, so I try to give the best
answer I can, along with a citation that can provide more detailed
information. It's up to you whether you read it or not, but if you keep
asking the same questions over and over again, I will start just citing
references and suggesting that you read them. After all, it is also rude to
ignore the answers that are given to you.

> ...a suggestion that only ignorance prevents people from thinking as
> you do.

Ignorance does prevent people from KNOWING what I do, and if you knew what I
knew you wouldn't be asking your questions. You are not obligated to believe
the information, but at least you would know enough not to have to ask these
particular questions.

> If you have command of your subject, you should be able
> to answer even ignorant questions directly in a few sentences.

Which is exactly what I have been doing with you ever since you started
asking questions (instead of pontificating nonsense) on this thread.
However, if I give a reference that can provide more information, I would
expect you to read it rather than simply ask the same questions all over

Kevin L. O'Brien