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2 The Origin of Life

watch video:The Origins of Life (1/2)
ABIOGENESIS: The Origins (2/2)
Interesting Examples…
• For centuries people (including scientists)
believed that simple living organisms
could come into being by spontaneous
generation. This was the idea that non-
living objects can give rise to living
organisms. It was common “knowledge”
that simple organisms like worms, beetles,
frogs, and salamanders could come from
dust, mud, etc., and food left out, quickly
“swarmed” with life. For example:
Interesting Examples…
• Observation: Every year in
the spring, the Nile River
flooded areas of Egypt along
the river, leaving behind
nutrient-rich mud that enabled
the people to grow that year’s
crop of food. However, along
with the muddy soil, large
numbers of frogs appeared
that weren’t around in drier
– Conclusion: It was perfectly
obvious to people back then that
muddy soil gave rise to the frogs.
Interesting Examples…
• In many parts of Europe,
medieval farmers stored
grain in barns with
thatched roofs As a roof
aged, it was not
uncommon for it to start
leaking. This could lead
to spoiled or moldy grain,
and of course there were
lots of mice around.
– Conclusion: It was
obvious to them that the
mice came from the moldy

Interesting Examples…

• Observation: Since there were no refrigerators,

the mandatory, daily trip to the butcher shop,
especially in summer, meant battling the flies
around the carcasses. Typically, carcasses were
“hung by their heels,” and customers selected
which chunk the butcher would carve off for them.
– Conclusion: Obviously, the rotting meat that had been
hanging in the sun all day was the source of the flies.
Biogenesis Experiment

• In 1668, Francesco Redi,

an Italian physician, did
an experiment with flies
and wide-mouth jars
containing meat. This
was a true scientific
experiment — many
people say this was the
first real experiment —
containing the following
Biogenesis Experiment

• Observation: There are flies

around meat carcasses at the
butcher shop.
• Question: Where do the flies
come from? Does rotting meat
turn into or produce the flies?
• Hypothesis: Rotten meat does
not turn into flies. Only flies can
make more flies.
• Prediction: If meat cannot turn
into flies, rotting meat in a sealed
(fly-proof) container should not
produce flies or maggots.
• Testing: Wide-mouth jars each
containing a piece of meat were
subjected to several variations of
“openness” while all other
variables were kept the same.
Biogenesis Experiment
• control group — These jars of meat
were set out without lids so the meat
would be exposed to whatever it might
be in the butcher shop.
experimental group(s) — One group
of jars were sealed with lids, and
another group of jars had gauze
placed over them.
replication — Several jars were
included in each group.
• Data: Presence or absence of flies
and maggots observed in each jar was
recorded. In the control group of jars,
flies were seen entering the jars. Later,
maggots, then more flies were seen on
the meat. In the gauze-covered jars,
no flies were seen in the jars, but were
observed around and on the gauze,
and later a few maggots were seen on
the meat. In the sealed jars, no
maggots or flies were ever seen on the
• Conclusion(s): Only flies can make
more flies.
Early Ideas of Origin

Spontaneous generation is
the idea that life arises from
This idea was rejected in the

It was replaced by the theory

of biogenesis which states
that only living organisms can
produce other living
Theory of Biogenesis
• Pasteur used a
similar experiment
to show that this
applied to
microorganism as
well as organisms
like flies which are
Modern Ideas of Origins
If life can arise only from pre-
existing life then how did
we first appear?
• Haldane and Oparin were
the first to speculate on the
spontaneous origin of life.
The Haldane-Oparin
Hypothesis proposed that
the precursors of life's
molecules formed from
inorganic sources
Miller and Urey
• Chemist Stanley Miller and physicist
Harold Urey did a famous experiment in
1950 to test this theory. They mixed gases
thought to be present on primitive earth:

• Methane (CH4)
• Ammonia (NH3)
• Water (H2O)
• Hydrogen (H2)
Modern Ideas of Origins
They tested the Haldane-
Oparin hypothesis with a
device that simulated the
primitive environment.
Using a mixture of gases
and applying an electrical
discharge, they succeeded
in synthesizing amino
acids, Because AAs are
the building blocks of
proteins this supported the
primordial soup
Making Proteins

• Clay would have been

a common sediment
in early oceans, and it
could have provided a
frame work for protein
assembly. See figure
14.14 in our text
Modern Ideas of Origins continued ………….

• A requirement for life is the coding system for

protein production (DNA or RNA).
• Another important step in evolution of life was
the formation of membranes.
Connection between the various chemical
events and the overall path from molecules to
cells remains unresolved
Cellular Evolution
• Scientists hypothesize that the first
cells were prokaryotic cells.
• Many scientists think that modern
prokaryotes called archaea are the
closest relatives of Earth’s first cells.
• These organisms live in extreme
environments, such as the hot springs
of Yellowstone Park or volcanic vents
in the deep sea. They do not need
oxygen. Scientists believe that the
earth’s earliest atmosphere did not
contain oxygen.
• Photosynthesizing
probably evolved after
the archaea (based
on fossil record)
These bacteria would
have released oxygen
• The oxygen would
have produced an
ozone (protective)
layer around the earth
which would have set
the conditions for the
first eukaryotic cell
The Endosymbiont Theory
• This theory was proposed
by Lynn Margulis in 1966.
It is hypothesized that
eukaryotic cells may have
once lived in symbiosis
with prokaryotic cells and
over time may have
evolved into organelles of
the eukaryotes
specifically mitochondria
and chloroplasts
The Endosymbiont Theory
• Factors in favor of mitochondrial and chloroplast
• Outer membrane is similar to the plasma membrane.
• Mitochondria look a lot like bacteria; chloroplasts look a
lot like blue-green algae. These organelles are similar to
prokaryotes in that:
– Both have their own DNA.
-Both reproduce by fission (independant from the rest of the cell)
– Both have prokaryotic type and size ribosomes.
– Inner membrane lipids of mitochondria and chloroplasts are
similar to their prokaryotic counterparts.
• Chemical methods
seem most likely and
scientists have been
able to generate the
biomolecules from
molecules that were
thought to be present
on the early earth.
• Spontaneous
Generation is the idea
that life can arise form
non-living matter
• Biogenesis states that
only living things can
produce living things
• Prokaryotes are
simpler organisms
than eukaryotic cells
• If prokaryotic cells linked
symbiotically with early
eukaryotic cells they
could have been mutually
beneficial to each other
and eukaryotic cells could
have evolved to
incorporate prokaryotes
likely as mitochondria or