Evolution in the News - February 2009
by Do-While Jones

Life Not Nearly Created

A misleading Life Science article on the Fox News site makes it appear that life was nearly created in the lab.

A major problem for evolutionists is that the theory is dead on arrival. The story starts out on a lifeless planet, and somehow life arose through some spontaneous natural process that has never happened again, despite scientists’ best efforts to reproduce it. Without the natural, spontaneous appearance of Frankencell, there is nothing to evolve. Therefore, evolutionists desperately need to come up with some plausible explanation of how it happened.

One of life's greatest mysteries is how it began. Scientists have pinned it down to roughly this:

Some chemical reactions occurred about 4 billion years ago “perhaps in a primordial tidal soup or maybe with help of volcanoes or possibly at the bottom of the sea or between the mica sheets” to create biology.

Now scientists have created something in the lab that is tantalizingly close to what might have happened. 1

It sounds like they have figured it out, especially since the article’s title is, “Life As We Know It Nearly Created in Lab.”

The article goes on to say,

To understand the remarkable breakthrough, detailed Jan. 8 in the early online edition of the journal Science, you have to know a little about molecules called RNA and DNA. 2

Better still, we believe, one has to know what the article in Science actually said. It begins,

A longstanding research goal has been to devise a nonbiological system that undergoes replication in a selfsustained manner, brought about by enzymatic machinery which is part of the system being replicated. 3

In other words, the goal is to create a situation in which inanimate (nonbiological) chemicals assemble themselves into a self-sustaining biological system that grows and reproduces itself. The first process they tried used the R3C RNA enzyme.

This process was inefficient because the substrates formed a non-productive complex that limited the extent of exponential growth, with a doubling time of about 17 h[ours] and no more than two successive doublings. 4

That didn’t work. It took too long, and it didn’t continue very long. So, they tried Plan B.

The R3C ligase subsequently was converted to a crosscatalytic format … This too was inefficient because of the formation of non-productive complexes and the slow underlying rate of the two enzymes. 5

So, Plan B didn’t work, either. On to Plan C!

The catalytic properties of the cross-replicating RNA enzymes were improved using in vitro evolution, optimizing the two component reactions in parallel and seeking solutions that would apply to both reactions when conducted in the cross-catalytic format. The 5´-triphosphate bearing substrate was joined to the enzyme via a hairpin loop (B´ to E, and B to E´), and nucleotides within both the enzyme and the separate 3´-hydroxyl-bearing substrate (A´ and A) were randomized at a frequency of 12% per position. The two resulting populations of molecules were subjected to six rounds of stringent in vitro selection, selecting for their ability to react in progressively shorter times, ranging from 2 h[ours] to 10 milliseconds. Mutagenic PCR was performed after the third round to maintain diversity in the population. Following the sixth round, individuals were cloned from both populations and sequenced. 6

We know that after reading their explanation it is unlikely that you understand exactly what they did. All you really need to understand is that they did a lot of stuff that would not happen naturally. There was a lot of goal-directed work that was done intentionally. It isn’t as if they just poured five different chemicals into a test tube and suddenly a reproducing cell formed. They worked hard to get this stuff to reproduce. And what was the result?

The optimized enzymes underwent robust exponential amplification at a constant temperature of 42 oC, with more than 25-fold amplification after 5 h[ours], followed by a leveling off as the supply of substrates became depleted.

Exponential growth can be continued indefinitely in a serial transfer experiment in which a portion of a completed reaction mixture is transferred to a new reaction vessel that contains a fresh supply of substrates. 7

For you American readers who don’t know the Celsius scale, and don’t happen to live just outside Death Valley, like I do, you need to know that 42 oC is 107.6 oF. So, they had to keep the solution “comfortably warm” , and they had to keep taking a little bit of it out and putting it in a new environment with “a fresh supply of substrates” to keep the reaction going.

The article ends with these words:

In order to support much greater complexity it will be necessary to constrain the set of substrates, for example, by using the population of newly-formed enzymes to generate a daughter population of substrates. An important challenge for an artificial RNA-based genetic system is to support a broad range of encoded functions, well beyond replication itself. Ultimately the system should provide open-ended opportunities for discovering novel function, something that likely has not occurred on Earth since the time of the RNA world, but presents an increasingly tangible research opportunity. 8

A “research opportunity” still exists because they aren’t even remotely close to creating life in the lab, even by simulating the mythical RNA world, despite what the Live Science article quoted by Fox News said.

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1 Britt, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,479777,00.html, 13 January, 2009, “Life As We Know It Nearly Created in Lab”
2 ibid.
3 Lincoln and Joyce, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/rapidpdf/1167856v1.pdf, 8 January 2009, “Self-Sustained Replication of an RNA Enzyme”
4 ibid.
5 ibid.
6 ibid.
7 ibid.
8 ibid.