The world of no good

wanna have a fun life, travel, and see different cultures.

Friday, August 14, 2009

From Chemistry to Biology

Amongst the most famous debates in current pop-science groups is undoubtedly the debate of "how did life come about? Was it thru natural happenstance or thru miraculous/supernatural intervention" - the debate between unguided evolution vs. intelligent design. After following this debate for quite a few years (a lot of PZ Myers, Dawkins, Bertrand Russell for the evolutionary perspective, and the discovery institute,... for the ID point of view), I have one strong statement to make, the intelligent design community is intellectually empty. They do have a philosophical point - it is "logically possible" that some supernatural force created everything, but the community that espouses this view is rampant with miscreants and liars. In my opinion, even the "biggest" proponents (read, Ken Ham, Michael Behe, ...) of this "theory" consistently fabricate data, and misinform the clueless public. This is my biggest concern! While there might be some philosophical merit to the proposal, just the way they go about doing it shows one thing - even they themselves aren't truly convinced by the evidence, and need to resort to cheap, and ultimately unproductive, tactics like lying and making up data. (see the "Creation Museum" pictures to see how ludicrous some of this population is.)

On a related note, a subject that I have found fascinating in recent times is that of "Abiogenesis". The branch of scientific inquiry that studies the origin of biological life, i.e., how did life (in the biological sense of the word) ever come about from a point when there was no life?

Evolutionary theories (in the Darwinian mould) talk about biological evolution as a result of Natural Selection - that is Nature (and natural conditions) acts as a filter, and repeated filtering over mutations results in evolution of new species. However, what's key for biological evolution is the pre-existence of life. That is: speciation is only possible, in a Darwinian framework, when a previous more "primitive" life is already present. In short, Darwinian evolutionary theories have nothing to say about how life came to be - or how life ever started - they just account for how species evolved.

I recently saw a video lecture by Professor Robert Hazen (Carnegie Institution and George Mason University) on the topic of Abiogenesis. It was a lot of fun, and really stirred the love for physical and organic chemistry that I had in high-school.

I present below a gist of his talk. I refer you to the actual 1hr 9min talk video for a more elaborate discussion.

His talk's main point was that for biology to have developed from chemistry, there must have been at least the four steps in the pic below. Darwinian natural selection is only possible after the "biomolecules" or "building blocks of life", i.e., amino acids, sugars..., were created from the chemical conditions that existed on earth before life; followed by steps 2 and 3.

A cool experiment that showed that step one is replicable is one by Miller and colleagues in the early 1950's. They had a lab experiment where the apparatus mimicked the conditions of the "pre-life earth". The apparatus tried to recreate the presence of water, air, the right temperature and pressure, and finally, the chemicals that were there before life came about. What they found was that leaving the set-up as such for some time automatically leads to the creation of the basic building blocks (amino acids, sugars...)

So, step 1 is essentially solved. We understand it. The answer is kinda known. We know for sure that we can recreate step 1 without any "outside/supernatural" intervention, just by recreating the original conditions of the earth. This is clearly a replicable process.

Steps 2 and 3 are still being understood. We have good leads with step 2 - some important minerals might be aiding in the selection of the right building blocks. But, step 3 is still in the conception stage. There are apparently some good theoretical ideas, but there's no good experimental support for these proposal.

Again, step 4 has some excellent experimental support. And of course it has received massive support from evolutionary biological findings in the last 150 years since Darwin's days (and from some work even before that, of course).

So, to put it concisely, the work that really needs to be done and is being pursued right now in the small field of Abiogenesis is between steps 2 & 3.

And finally, why bother talking about all this when I started with the discussion of evolutionary biology vs. intelligent design. Simple, I love the conclusions of the talk. Very simple, and basic, yet the god-mongers amongst us don't necessarily see it.

In search of a new beginning!

Hello everyone! It has truly been a long time since I last blogged. I was just wondering what everyone's been upto.

Shitty got married, Ashwin and Rags are soon to follow in Dec./Jan. Mayank's been trying to call me for the last week, and somehow he finds the voicemail, and the two times I tried to call him up, I found an old german lady. In short, somehow, everyone's getting screwed over. lol!

Life's been weird. Interesting, but weird. I am having to push thru my usually spirit-less existence to force myself to do things that are totally out of character. And you know what?? It ain't half bad. I am getting to know myself very well. Loneliness does that to you. haha!

But, since I last messaged, I learnt a lot about linguistics, a lot about neuroscience, and a lot about lotsa unrelated things. I think I kinda like who I am becoming. When is the last time I said that?

I'm going to Michigan State Univ. for a one year stint as a faculty member there. Should be 'interesting'. When I went there, I had a lot of fun, but kinda missed not being with close ones.

Been playing tennis (with Naveen) in the last week. Was a lot of fun. Played after many years! I was surprised that my knees didn't give in. Far from being half-decent, but I have to say it was a welcome change to my otherwise sedentary way of life.

Federer just lost to Tsonga in the Rogers Cup. Was a little sad about it. he's just not the same anymore. :(.

This was sort of a boring post I guess, but hopefully more interesting stuff will follow soon!