Where do we come from?

“Where do we come from?” is one of the most fundamental questions bugging mankind. Everybody wants to know where they came from, where their ancestors come from. Was it a meteorite from another planet that brought life with it? Was it the volcanic eruptions? Or was it Adam and Eve? If you have ever thought about this even once in your life (or even if you didn’t until now), you will find this one interesting.

I recently read a novel whose story was built on the basis of the origin of Life on Earth and came across a rather unusual experiment that was conducted in as early as the 1950s. The scientists behind the experiment thought light years ahead of their time and came up with this simple test to uncover the truth behind the origin of life. Legend has it that the Earth was populated by a divine force a.k.a God, and Science had nothing to do with it. But these two scientists begged to differ and tried to prove this by conducting a simple experiment.

Stanley Lloyd Miller and Harold Urey were two of the greatest known chemists of all times. They became known for the famous Miller-Urey experiment which was one of the many experiments that were performed to prove that organic compounds (which make up all living organisms) are formed from inorganic substances when subjected to heat and pressure. This essentially means that life can be formed from inorganic chemicals under the influence of intense heat and pressure just like the “Primordial soup” that once dominated the Earth.

The experiment used Water (H2O), Methane (CH4), Ammonia (NH3) and Hydrogen (H2), compounds that were believed to have been the major components of the Earth’s atmosphere during the origin of Life. A test tube containing these chemicals was connected in a loop with 2 flasks, one that was half full of Water and the other containing 2 electrodes. The liquid water was heated to add water vapor to the chemical mixture and the resulting gases were circulated around the apparatus, simulating the Earth’s atmosphere. Sparks were fired between the 2 electrodes to mimic lightening believed to be common on early Earth.

At the end of one week of continuous operation, Miller and Urey observed that around 10–15% of the Carbon present inside the system was in the form of organic compounds. This experiment went on to show that life forming organic compounds could be formed without the help of a divine force which was the popular belief at the time.

However, there was considerable opposition to this conclusion.

· It was believed that Earth’s atmosphere did not contain such high concentrations of Methane and Ammonia.

· Lightning strikes were not as common to early Earth as the Electric energy used in Miller-Urey experiment.

· Primordial Earth experienced numerous Comet and Meteorite strikes and the composition of these structures has shown the presence of complex Carbon compounds. It may also be that these Carbon compounds were the source of origin of Life.

Hence it was argued that the results of the experiment were not accurate and might be misleading. Regardless, the Miller-Urey experiment was a major breakthrough in the study of the origin of life on Earth. It opened doors to curious souls to explore further and unearth the answer to the ultimate question-“Where do we come from?”