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Miller-Urey experiment-en

The experiment

The Miller–Urey experiment[1] (or Urey–Miller experiment)[2] was an experiment that simulated hypothetical conditions thought at the time to be present on the early Earth, and tested for the occurrence of chemical evolution. Specifically, the experiment tested Alexander Oparin's and J. B. S. Haldane's hypothesis that conditions on the primitive Earth favored chemical reactions that synthesized organic compounds from inorganic precursors. Considered to be the classic experiment on the origin of life, it was conducted in 1952[3] and published in 1953 by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey at the University of Chicago.[4][5][6]

In 2008,[7] a re-analysis of Miller's archived solutions from the original experiments showed that 22 amino acids rather than 5 were actually created in one of the apparatus used.[8]

Experiment Edit

The experiment used water (H2O), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), and hydrogen (H2). The chemicals were all sealed inside a sterile array of glass tubes and flasks connected in a loop, with one flask half-full of liquid water and another flask containing a pair of electrodes. The liquid water was heated to induce evaporation, sparks were fired between the electrodes to simulate lightning through the atmosphere and water vapor, and then the atmosphere was cooled again so that the water could condense and trickle back into the first flask in a continuous cycle.

At the end of one week of continuous operation, Miller and Urey observed that as much as 10–15% of the carbon within the system was now in the form of organic compounds. Two percent of the carbon had formed amino acids that are used to make proteins in living cells, with glycine as the most abundant. Sugars, lipids, and some of the building blocks for nucleic acids were also formed.

In an interview, Stanley Miller stated: "Just turning on the spark in a basic pre-biotic experiment will yield 11 out of 20 amino acids."[9]

As observed in all subsequent experiments, both left-handed (L) and right-handed (D) optical isomers were created in a racemic mixture.

Chemistry of experimentEdit

One-step reactions among the mixture components can produce hydrogen cyanide (HCN), formaldehyde (CH2O),[10][11] and other active intermediate compounds (acetylene, cyanoacetylene, etc.):

CO2 → CO + [O] (atomic oxygen)
CH4 + 2[O] → CH2O + H2O
CO + NH3 → HCN + H2O
CH4 + NH3 → HCN + 3H2 (BMA process)

The formaldehyde, ammonia, and HCN then react by Strecker synthesis to form amino acids and other biomolecules:

CH2O + HCN + NH3 → NH2-CH2-CN + H2O
NH2-CH2-CN + 2H2O → NH3 + NH2-CH2-COOH (glycine)

Furthermore, water and formaldehyde can react via Butlerov's reaction to produce various sugars like ribose.

Other experimentsEdit

This experiment inspired many others. In 1961, Joan Oró found that the nucleotide base adenine could be made from hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and ammonia in a water solution. His experiment produced a large amount of adenine, which molecules were formed from 5 molecules of HCN.[12] Also, many amino acids are formed from HCN and ammonia under these conditions.[13] Experiments conducted later showed that the other RNA and DNA nucleobases could be obtained through simulated prebiotic chemistry with a reducing atmosphere.[14]

There also had been similar electric discharge experiments related to the origin of life contemporaneous with Miller–Urey. An article in The New York Times (March 8, 1953:E9), titled "Looking Back Two Billion Years" describes the work of Wollman (William) M. MacNevin at The Ohio State University, before the Miller Science paper was published in May 1953. MacNevin was passing 100,000 volt sparks through methane and water vapor and produced "resinous solids" that were "too complex for analysis." The article describes other early earth experiments being done by MacNevin. It is not clear if he ever published any of these results in the primary scientific literature.[citation needed]

K. A. Wilde submitted a paper to Science on December 15, 1952, before Miller submitted his paper to the same journal on February 14, 1953. Wilde's paper was published on July 10, 1953.[15] Wilde used voltages up to only 600 V on a binary mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and water in a flow system. He observed only small amounts of carbon dioxide reduction to carbon monoxide, and no other significant reduction products or newly formed carbon compounds. Other researchers were studying UV-photolysis of water vapor with carbon monoxide. They have found that various alcohols, aldehydes and organic acids were synthesized in reaction mixture [16].

More recent experiments by chemist Jeffrey Bada at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (in La Jolla, CA) were similar to those performed by Miller. However, Bada noted that in current models of early Earth conditions, carbon dioxide and nitrogen (N2) create nitrites, which destroy amino acids as fast as they form. However, the early Earth may have had significant amounts of iron and carbonate minerals able to neutralize the effects of the nitrites. When Bada performed the Miller-type experiment with the addition of iron and carbonate minerals, the products were rich in amino acids. This suggests the origin of significant amounts of amino acids may have occurred on Earth even with an atmosphere containing carbon dioxide and nitrogen.[17]

Earth's early atmosphereEdit

Some evidence suggests that Earth's original atmosphere might have contained fewer of the reducing molecules than was thought at the time of the Miller–Urey experiment. There is abundant evidence of major volcanic eruptions 4 billion years ago, which would have released carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere. Experiments using these gases in addition to the ones in the original Miller–Urey experiment have produced more diverse molecules. The experiment created a mixture that was racemic (containing both L and D enantiomers) and experiments since have shown that "in the lab the two versions are equally likely to appear."[18] However, in nature, L amino acids dominate; later experiments have confirmed disproportionate amounts of L or D oriented enantiomers are possible.[19]

Originally it was thought that the primitive secondary atmosphere contained mostly ammonia and methane. However, it is likely that most of the atmospheric carbon was CO2 with perhaps some CO and the nitrogen mostly N2. In practice gas mixtures containing CO, CO2, N2, etc. give much the same products as those containing CH4 and NH3 so long as there is no O2. The hydrogen atoms come mostly from water vapor. In fact, in order to generate aromatic amino acids under primitive earth conditions it is necessary to use less hydrogen-rich gaseous mixtures. Most of the natural amino acids, hydroxyacids, purines, pyrimidines, and sugars have been produced in variants of the Miller experiment.[20]

More recent results may question these conclusions. The University of Waterloo and University of Colorado conducted simulations in 2005 that indicated that the early atmosphere of Earth could have contained up to 40 percent hydrogen—implying a possibly much more hospitable environment for the formation of prebiotic organic molecules. The escape of hydrogen from Earth's atmosphere into space may have occurred at only one percent of the rate previously believed based on revised estimates of the upper atmosphere's temperature.[21] One of the authors, Owen Toon notes: "In this new scenario, organics can be produced efficiently in the early atmosphere, leading us back to the organic-rich soup-in-the-ocean concept... I think this study makes the experiments by Miller and others relevant again." Outgassing calculations using a chondritic model for the early earth complement the Waterloo/Colorado results in re-establishing the importance of the Miller–Urey experiment.[22]

CriticsTemplate:Who of the Miller–Urey hypothesis point out recent research that shows the presence of uranium in sediments dated to 3.7 Ga and indicates it was transported in solution by oxygenated water (otherwise it would have precipitated out).[23] These critics argue that this presence of oxygen precludes the formation of prebiotic molecules via a Miller–Urey-like scenario, attempting to invalidate the hypothesis of abiogenesis. However, the authors of the paper are arguing that this presence of oxygen merely evidences the existence of photosynthetic organisms 3.7 Ga ago (a date about 200 Ma earlier than previous estimates[24]) a conclusion which while pushing back the time frame in which Miller–Urey reactions and abiogenesis could potentially have occurred, would not preclude them. Though there is somewhat controversial evidence for very small (less than 0.1%) amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere almost as old as Earth's oldest rocks, the authors are not in any way arguing for the existence of an oxygen-rich atmosphere any earlier than previously thought, and they state: ". . . In fact most evidence suggests that oxygenic photosynthesis was present during time periods from which there is evidence for a non-oxygenic atmosphere".[23]

Conditions similar to those of the Miller–Urey experiments are present in other regions of the solar system, often substituting ultraviolet light for lightning as the energy source for chemical reactions. The Murchison meteorite that fell near Murchison, Victoria, Australia in 1969 was found to contain over 90 different amino acids, nineteen of which are found in Earth life. Comets and other icy outer-solar-system bodies are thought to contain large amounts of complex carbon compounds (such as tholins) formed by these processes, darkening surfaces of these bodies.[25] The early Earth was bombarded heavily by comets, possibly providing a large supply of complex organic molecules along with the water and other volatiles they contributed. This has been used to infer an origin of life outside of Earth: the panspermia hypothesis.

Recent related studiesEdit

In recent years, studies have been made of the amino acid composition of the products of "old" areas in "old" genes, defined as those that are found to be common to organisms from several widely separated species, assumed to share only the last universal ancestor (LUA) of all extant species. These studies found that the products of these areas are enriched in those amino acids that are also most readily produced in the Miller–Urey experiment. This suggests that the original genetic code was based on a smaller number of amino acids – only those available in prebiotic nature – than the current one.[26]

In 2008, a group of scientists examined 11 vials left over from Miller's experiments of the early 1950s. In addition to the classic experiment, reminiscent of Charles Darwin's envisioned "warm little pond", Miller had also performed more experiments, including one with conditions similar to those of volcanic eruptions. This experiment had a nozzle spraying a jet of steam at the spark discharge. By using high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, the group found more organic molecules than Miller had. Interestingly, they found that the volcano-like experiment had produced the most organic molecules, 22 amino acids, 5 amines and many hydroxylated molecules, which could have been formed by hydroxyl radicals produced by the electrified steam. The group suggested that volcanic island systems became rich in organic molecules in this way, and that the presence of carbonyl sulfide there could have helped these molecules form peptides.[7][27]

See alsoEdit

  • Abiogenesis, the study of how life on Earth emerged from inanimate organic and inorganic molecules.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Hill HG, Nuth JA (2003). "The catalytic potential of cosmic dust: implications for prebiotic chemistry in the solar nebula and other protoplanetary systems". Astrobiology 3 (2): 291–304. doi:10.1089/153110703769016389. PMID 14577878. 
  2. Balm SP, Hare J.P., Kroto HW (1991). "The analysis of comet mass spectrometric data". Space Science Reviews 56: 185–9. doi:10.1007/BF00178408. 
  3. "Stanley Miller's 70th Birthday" (PDF). Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere (Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers) 30: 107–12. 2000, http://www.issol.org/miller/70thB-Day.pdf. 
  4. Miller, Stanley L. (May 1953). "Production of Amino Acids Under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions" (PDF). Science 117: 528. doi:10.1126/science.117.3046.528. PMID 13056598, http://www.issol.org/miller/miller1953.pdf. 
  5. Miller, Stanley L.; Harold C. Urey (July 1959). "Organic Compound Synthesis on the Primitive Earth". Science 130: 245. doi:10.1126/science.130.3370.245. PMID 13668555.  Miller states that he made "A more complete analysis of the products" in the 1953 experiment, listing additional results.
  6. A. Lazcano, J. L. Bada (June 2004). "The 1953 Stanley L. Miller Experiment: Fifty Years of Prebiotic Organic Chemistry". Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 33: 235–242. doi:10.1023/A:1024807125069. PMID 14515862. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Johnson AP, Cleaves HJ, Dworkin JP, Glavin DP, Lazcano A, Bada JL (October 2008). "The Miller volcanic spark discharge experiment". Science 322 (5900): 404. doi:10.1126/science.1161527. PMID 18927386. 
  8. Catherine Brahic. "Volcanic lightning may have sparked life on Earth — earth — 16 October 2008 — New Scientist Environment". NewScientist. Retrieved on 2008-10-17.
  9. "EXOBIOLOGY: An Interview with Stanley L. Miller". Accessexcellence.org. Retrieved on 2009-08-20.
  10. http://www.oocities.com/capecanaveral/lab/2948/orgel.html Origin of Life on Earth by Leslie E. Orgel
  11. http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11860&page=85 Exploring Organic Environments in the Solar System (2007)
  12. Oró J, Kimball AP (August 1961). "Synthesis of purines under possible primitive earth conditions. I. Adenine from hydrogen cyanide". Archives of biochemistry and biophysics 94: 217–27. doi:10.1016/0003-9861(61)90033-9. PMID 13731263. 
  13. Oró J, Kamat SS (April 1961). "Amino-acid synthesis from hydrogen cyanide under possible primitive earth conditions". Nature 190: 442–3. doi:10.1038/190442a0. PMID 13731262. 
  14. Oró J (1967). Fox SW. ed.. Origins of Prebiological Systems and of Their Molecular Matrices, New York Academic Press. pp. 137. 
  15. Wilde, Kenneth A.; Bruno J. Zwolinski and Ransom B. Parlin (July 1953). "The Reaction Occurring in CO2, 2O Mixtures in a High-Frequency Electric Arc". Science 118 (3054): 43–44. doi:10.1126/science.118.3054.43-a. PMID 13076175, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/citation/118/3054/43-a. Retrieved on 9 July 2008. 
  16. Synthesis of organic compounds from carbon monoxide and water by UV photolysis
  17. Fox, Douglas (2007-03-28), "Primordial Soup's On: Scientists Repeat Evolution's Most Famous Experiment", Scientific American, History of Science (Scientific American Inc.), http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=primordial-soup-urey-miller-evolution-experiment-repeated, retrieved on 9 July 2008 
  18. "Right-handed amino acids were left behind", New Scientist (Reed Business Information Ltd) (2554): 18, 2006-06-02, http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/mg19025545.200-righthanded-amino-acids-were-left-behind.html, retrieved on 9 July 2008 
  19. Kojo, Shosuke; Hiromi Uchino, Mayu Yoshimura and Kyoko Tanaka (October 2004). "Racemic D,L-asparagine causes enantiomeric excess of other coexisting racemic D,L-amino acids during recrystallization: a hypothesis accounting for the origin of L-amino acids in the biosphere". Chemical Communications (19): 2146–2147. doi:10.1039/b409941a. PMID 15467844. 
  20. "MICR 425: PHYSIOLOGY & BIOCHEMISTRY of MICROORGANISMS: The Origin of Life". SIUC / College of Science. Retrieved on 2005-12-17.
  21. "Early Earth atmosphere favorable to life: study". University of Waterloo. Retrieved on 2005-12-17.
  22. Fitzpatrick, Tony (2005). "Calculations favor reducing atmosphere for early earth – Was Miller–Urey experiment correct?". Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved on 2005-12-17.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Rosing M.T. & Frei R. (2004). "U-rich Archaean sea-floor sediments from Greenland—indications of >3700 Ma oxygenic photosynthesis" (PDF). Earth and Planetary Science Letters 217: 237–244. doi:10.1016/S0012-821X(03)00609-5, http://www.geol.ku.dk/pershps/robertfrei/WEB/Rosing%20and%20Frei%20-%20EPSL-2004-1.pdf. 
  24. Windows to the Universe (1999). "The slow build up of Oxygen in the Earth's Atmosphere". University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Retrieved on 2005-12-17.
  25. Thompson WR, Murray BG, Khare BN, Sagan C (December 1987). "Coloration and darkening of methane clathrate and other ices by charged particle irradiation: applications to the outer solar system". Journal of geophysical research 92 (A13): 14933–47. doi:10.1029/JA092iA13p14933. PMID 11542127. 
  26. Brooks D.J., Fresco J.R., Lesk A.M. & Singh M. (October 1, 2002). "Evolution of amino acid frequencies in proteins over deep time: inferred order of introduction of amino acids into the genetic code". Molecular Biology and Evolution 19 (10): 1645–55. PMID 12270892, http://mbe.oupjournals.org/cgi/content/full/19/10/1645. 
  27. "'Lost' Miller–Urey Experiment Created More Of Life's Building Blocks", Science Daily (October 17, 2008). Retrieved on 18 October 2008. 

External linksEdit

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