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Miller's Experiment on How Life Began

In 1953 Stanley Miller (a graduate student at University of Chicago) convinced his advisor, Harold Urey, to go along with an experiment simulating how life arose on Earth. Miller created a closed system in which he mimicked the early Earth environment (or, what they had believed it to be back then). This concoction consisted of ammonia, methane, hydrogen gas, and water vapor. He next sent electric charges through the system to simulate lightning storms (also thought to be common on prehistoric Earth). After a few days Miller noticed that the consistency of the mixture had changed and now a brown gooey substance was present all over the inside of his reaction vessel. This goo was found to contain amino acids which are vital in the creation of proteins, a key component to life. Miller had just shown the first step to the creation of life!

Of course it does not necessarily get simpler from here on out. How could these amino acids aggregate to form a larger complex molecule which would eventually (after many steps in time) develop into an organized cell? No one knows. It is believed to be a long process, possibly full of random catalyzing events (such as a lightning storm) for which the results of which culminate in an organized cell.

Miller’s experiment soon became very famous in the debate of how life arose on Earth. Since then, many contradicting theories about what the early Earth environment was like (was it a soupy marsh? Dry, windy, and hot? Rocky, not wet?) have developed, for which none are the clear answer. It is obvious that we will not be able to solve this great mystery without certainty about the early Earth environment. But no matter what the early Earth environment consisted of, there must have been the process - the process from amino acid to replicating molecule to organized cell, which is another fascinating leap itself.

Miller's Setup (NASA)





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