26. Origin of Life on Earth   Previous PageNext Page
       The Laboratory Evidence

Many similar experiments followed, by Miller and others, using both electrical discharge and ultraviolet light. The compositions of the gas mixtures were varied, and included H2S, CO, and CO2. Almost any starting mixture containing compounds of both nitrogen and carbon led to amino acids, as long as free oxygen was absent.

It seems that the spontaneous formation of amino acids by lightning and ultraviolet radiation would have been virtually inevitable on Earth in a reducing atmosphere, but impossible in an oxidizing atmosphere.

The first products in these experiments usually were hydrogen cyanide (HCN), cyanogen (NC-CN), cyanoacetylene (H-C=C-C=N), formaldehyde (HCHO), acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), and propionaldehyde (CH3CH2CHO). These products then reacted to form various nitriles (R-CN), which subsequently hydrolyzed in aqueous solution:


The results were mixtures of formic, acetic, propionic, lactic, succinic, and other organic acids; glycine, alanine, aspartic and glutamic acids, and other biological and nonbiological amino acids; urea, methylurea, and various other small molecules.

None of these artificially synthesized molecules showed optical activity; they all were equal mixtures of D and L isomers. As has been mentioned previously, the optical activity that biological molecules exhibit today is a result of choices by enzymes in living organisms.



  Page 22 of 36 HomeGlossary