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June 16, 1978 - Image 6

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1978-06-16

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Page 6-Friday, June 16, 1978-The Michigan Daily
Scientists say first
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Scientists The theory suggests that the metal-
studying how life began 3% billion laden clays - which should have been
years ago said Thursday they have common on primitive seashores -
discovered that metal-laden clays may provided an environment that favored
have played a key role in the process. the concentration of amino acids and
"I have a feeling that the first living nucleotides, life's most basic building
thing might have been about half clay," blocks.

Dr. James Lawless, leader of' the
research project at NASA's Ames
Research Center, said in a telephone in-
terview. "I'm not sure we would even
recognize it as life."

THE METAL-CLAYS may also have
acted as catalysts, helping to stack
those building blocks into the complex
chemical structures that make life

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being was half clay
possible. millions of years, the amino acids and
The theory was outlined in Seattle on nucleotides were formed in the at-
Thursday during a regional meeting of mosphere. They fell as a life-giving rain
the American Chemical Society. into the oceans.
Working with Lawless were Dr. Ed- This very thin broth carried the fain-
ward Edelson and Lewis Manring. test promise of life into tidepools where
In very general terms, the most the seawater evaporated, leaving the
widely accepted theory for the begin- building blocks behind to be drenched
ning of life involves this scenario: by the incoming tide, then dried out
Some four billion years ago, the in- again.
fant earth was a hostile and empty AS THE AGES passed, nucleotides
world. Great dead oceans churned over somehow linked together into chains of
the planet. Volcanoes were building DNA, the substance that carries the
mountains and spreading continents. genetic code throughout each organism
The atmosphere was hydrogen, water and from generation to generation.
vapor, carbon dioxide, methane gas The aminoacids formed chains of
and ammonia. their own and became proteins. Among
ENERGY coursed through that many vital functions, proteins oversee
premordial atmosphere. Lightning the chemical processes of life.
produced sudden bursts of electricity. A In living things, DNA sends a
constant flow of energy came from the blueprint to the amino acids, telling
sun, from cosmic rays and from the them how to arrange themselves into
natural radiation of the earth. specific proteins.
The energy rearranged some of the
atoms and molecules of the at- SOMEWHERE in that theoretical
mosphericgises. process, something was able to transfer
As the changes continued over the genetic code and reproduce itself.
That something was very close to life.
::+::::::::::::The gap in the theory was an inability
-:::: :.::: .:: to explain how the building blocks,
spread ever so thinly through the
oceans, could be concentrated enough
to permit stacking into more complex
"One of the big stumbling blocks
we've come across is to get these things
out of that very thin concentration and
into a situation where they're close
enough to each other so the chemical
reactions can occur," Lawless said.
He said the group last year showed
that a clay containing nickel will at-
tract amino acids and-the concentrated
amino acids will then link up to form
primitive chains similar to protein.
"WE HAVE not linked the
nucleotides," he said, "although we're
planning some more experiments along
that line. What we have done is to get
them into a position where they can do
the job" of forming DNA.
M URRASo, he said, "we have shown amino
acids and we've shown nucleotides and
ANthat sets the stage."
AM O The next experimental step, Lawless
TOO INTENSE FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN Said, "is to put them both together in a
combined solution to see if we can get
some kind of primitive genetic code
Lawless said the theory is bolstered
by the growing awareness that traces of
various metals play a'vital role in the
functioning of the human body.

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