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Current Consensus Regarding Abiogenesis

  1. Sep 4, 2015 #1
    What is the current consensus among biologists regarding abiogenesis (or ideas of abiogenesis)? Are there any obstacles to testing it?


    Edit: Also, abiogenesis seems pretty heavy on chemistry. Do biologists usually require help from chemists when studying abiogenesis?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2015 #2

    There is not real consensus, but rather a number of competing hypotheses.

    And yes, biologists need help from the chemists here. Abiogenesis was once known as "chemical evolution" since it is more the study of self-replicating chemicals on the way to becoming living things rather than the study of living things.
  4. Sep 5, 2015 #3


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    General note but many fields of biology have a heavy chemistry component.
  5. Sep 5, 2015 #4
    Enough so that I would recommend that most aspiring biologists persue undergraduate majors in ACS accredited chemistry programs and then pick a biological specialty in graduate school.

    There are too many biologists who are too weak in math, chemistry, and the physical sciences. Those who are strong in math, chemistry, and the physical sciences are always in greater demand.
  6. Sep 5, 2015 #5


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    I have no clue about the educational system you are referring to but I don't disagree with the sentiment. Studying mathematics and chemistry (alongside biology) before embarking on a university level biology course would be very beneficial.
  7. Sep 8, 2015 #6
    A very good question!

    Alas, there is still no consensus. The field has been described as 50 years of modeling (100 if you count from Oparin), looking forward to 50 years of tests. (From around -00, IIRC; I am not sure I can pull out the reference at this time.)

    But it now seems two possible, competing theories have emerged, "soup" and "vent" theories (also called protocell theory vs fuel cell theory). Those are - at least in principle - testable in toto, and it was exciting to see that this years Astrobiology 2015 conference included a session devoted to tests - astrobiology is now "normal science"! (Theories and tests.) I note that it seems only vent theory tests were ongoing, which should be a pointer to which of the theories that is useful.

    There are also other models or "histories" - more constrained and ad hoc, not necessarily testable as much as a formulation of research strategies, et cetera.

    Since I am partial I note that there is a recent paper that showed that only the vent environment can lead to chemiosmosis, the idea that originally tied cells and Hadean geophysics together. My - trying to be informed - guess is that "soup" is hereby doomed to fade into irrelevance.

    Again being partial, astrobiology houses the more general work on life emergence. That pulls in cosmology, planetary physics and geophysics as well. Or even if you look elsewhere, you see geology et cetera in heavy participation.

    If you are interested, here is a really interesting publication of cutting edge scientists in a somewhat formal, somewhat informal setting sharing, as best possible, their respective knowledge with each other: https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/semin.../2013/5/20/hadean-earth-moon-system-workshop/ .

    If you go to talk #9, "Looking back by looking up: how exoplanets might inform us about surface conditions and abiogenesis on early Earth
    Eric Gaidos, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawai’i at Manoa", Gaidos argues for a 100 Myrs gap or so between our local knowledge of planetary formation (which is very good due to the large effect that Jupiter/Saturn behavior had) and our first geology knowledge (see the other talks). That is a gap that can perhaps only be filled by looking at planetary formation elsewhere, and the knowledge goes into setting the scene for the meager geology we have.

    [Say, we now know there was a hydrosphere from > 4.3 billion years ago (see the talks). But was it habitable or locked beneath a high pressure, high temperature steam atmosphere, the latter possible though not very likely - and in the latter case Timetree would not be put in tension: http://www.timetree.org/search/pairwise/2/2157? The consensus seems to be it was habitable, but it would be good to have more evidence.

    And as the talks on zircons note: there are now many thousands Hadean such (plus the Nuvvuagittuq rocks) with total absence of the usual impact shock traces seen in later periods. Where is the late bombardment!? Now we know our volatiles could, nay should, be mainly supplied before that period, so we have no longer any forcing constraint telling us Earth was subjected to late impactors - with or without volatiles - at the extent earlier envisioned. Rather the constraint is that nothing much happened, not much more volatiles came down late. Something mysterious is afoot - or the new Nice 2 planetary system formation theory with its much reduced late impactor flow has another positive test here.]

    The upshot is that planetary and planetary system physicists hath their uses!
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2015
  8. Sep 8, 2015 #7
    Thanks you, Torbjorn_L. Was astrobiology once considered pseudoscience? Also, are you a biologist?
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