Issue Date: March 28, 2011
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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