Pollute, freeze, zap.  Goal: “to better understand how life arose on Earth.”

With pride instead of shame, Science Daily promoted the idea that modern scientists in high-tech labs, brewing organic molecules on ice and zapping them with lasers, are poised to announce to the world “How Life Arose On Earth.”  They can’t be faulted with inventing the story, because it came right out of a press release from Jet Propulsion Laboratory that was promptly picked up the NASA astrobiology publicity crew at NASA-Ames in their Astrobiology Magazine.

The convoluted tale goes something like this:

In a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the research team provides the first direct look at the organic chemistry that takes place on icy particles in the frigid reaches of our solar system, and in the even chillier places between stars. Scientists think that the basic ingredients of life, including water and organics, began their journey to Earth on these lonesome ice particles. The ice and organics would have found their way into comets and asteroids, which then fell to Earth, delivering “prebiotic” ingredients that could have jump-started life.

The number of personifications in that story is astonishing: carbon soot molecules “found their way” onto comets, which fell to earth “delivering” ingredients that could have “jump-started life.”  While true that organic (carbon-based) molecules have been found in comets and meteorites and interstellar dust, they are as far from life as alphabet letters from software.

The remainder of the scenario provides neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for life.  It also contradicts all the other scenarios from many others in the origin-of-life field about where the molecules came from (e.g., volcanoes, deep sea vents, shallow pools); only a minority consider special delivery from space a valid option.  Nevertheless, that paragraph was followed by an understatement of the year, spun as a float in the scientific parade of progress:

The various steps needed to go from icy organics to slime molds are not clear, but the new findings help explain how the process works….

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