Origin-of-Life Surprises | March 28, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 13 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 13 | p. 36 | Concentrates
Issue Date: March 28, 2011

Origin-of-Life Surprises

Reexamination of some 50-year-old vials from Stanley Miller’s experiments turns up new results
Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: origin of life, atmosphere, analytical chemistry, amino acids
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Samples from Miller’s 1958 experiment; the vials have been relabeled, but the boxes are marked with Miller’s original notes.
Credit: Scripps/UCSD
8913scicon1vials_live-1
 
Samples from Miller’s 1958 experiment; the vials have been relabeled, but the boxes are marked with Miller’s original notes.
Credit: Scripps/UCSD
ON FURTHER REVIEW
Bada holds a preserved sample from one of Miller's 1958 experiments. Stanley Miller in his UCSD lab in 1970.
Credit: Scripps/UCSD
8913sconW_primordial026
 
ON FURTHER REVIEW
Bada holds a preserved sample from one of Miller's 1958 experiments. Stanley Miller in his UCSD lab in 1970.
Credit: Scripps/UCSD
ON FURTHER REVIEW
Bada holds a preserved sample from one of Miller's 1958 experiments. Stanley Miller in his UCSD lab in 1970.
Credit: Scripps/UCSD
8913scon_millerW
 
ON FURTHER REVIEW
Bada holds a preserved sample from one of Miller's 1958 experiments. Stanley Miller in his UCSD lab in 1970.
Credit: Scripps/UCSD

A new analysis of pioneering origin-of-life chemist Stanley Miller’s work suggests Miller, who shot to fame for producing amino acids in a flask mimicking the primeval Earth’s atmosphere, can also be held up as a model of scrupulous record keeping (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1019191108). A research team including some of the late Miller’s former students has reexamined samples from his carefully archived collection—which ended up at his last academic home at the University of California, San Diego—as they initially did three years ago (C&EN, Oct. 20, 2008, page 12). The latest samples had never been analyzed and came from a 1958 experiment in which Miller subjected a mixture of gases, including hydrogen sulfide, to an electric spark. Henderson J. Cleaves of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Eric T. Parker and Jeffrey L. Bada of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and colleagues found the amino acid methionine and other sulfur-containing compounds in the product mixtures, making the 1958 work the earliest synthesis of organosulfur molecules in an origin-of-life experiment. The gas mixture Miller used might not reflect primitive Earth’s atmosphere, but the experiment could help scientists understand how volcanoes or meteorites shaped prebiotic reactivity, Cleaves says.

 
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