Could floating rocks have been a cradle for life?

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Tibi Vasilescu

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Tibi Vasilescu  asked the Naked Scientists:
Dear Mr. Chris Smith,

I was just listening to the latest episode of "Ask The Naked Scientist" and I was very impressed with your personal understanding of climate change and its possible future implications.

But it was the second topic that really caught my ear; for many months now I have a thought about a tiny piece in the large puzzle concerning the origins of life on our planet and I feel this would be a great opportunity to share it.

I read a fascinating book earlier this year titled "Flotsametrics and the Floating World" by Curtis Ebbesmeyer, probably one of the leading authorities in the study of ocean currents and probably the most avid collector of various ocean debris.

The book itself is a great read and full of spectacular factoids but the most amazing thing I found in it was a chapter about the possible environment that nurtured the first complex chemical reactions that ultimately resulted in the "miracle" of life.

Dr. Ebbesmeyer's theory is that intense volcanic activity on the surface of our young planet could have easily littered the oceans with "floating rock", probably billions of tons of floating rock, a kind of porous  lightweight crystal formation that could have thousands and thousands of tiny cavities in every little piece. What amazes me is that apparently no "mainstream" scientist involved in the research of the evolution of early life has picked up on this.

You mentioned the famous Miller-Urey experiments which at the time excited the entire scientific community until the sobering realization that the creation of organic compounds in general and amino-acids in particular are not enough. From there to the creation of the simplest proteins  seemed to take a giant gap.

Well, I do not have any formal scientific training, I just manage a small pizza shop in New York City, but I do lave mathematics and I connect Dr. Ebbesmeyer's floating rocks with the infinite number of organic compounds that Dr. Stanley Miller managed to reproduce by mimicking a possible early environment by the chance of probability.

The Scientific American magazine dedicated an entire issue to the notion of "Origins" this last September and I read the chapter about life with interest and fascination. I think that enormous progress has been made in trying to piece together the elements , processes  and phenomena that led to the creation of life.

As far as the early environment is concerned, I noticed a tendency to presume that there were shallow pools, first quite warm later cooler that could have facilitated those complicated chemical reaction that might have resulted in something reproducible. It is this "chapter" where I think the floating rocks could provide a key role.

As far as I understand it, the probability of various amino-acids to assemble in the precise order to create a simple protein is so low, in other words the possible variations are so numerous, that the whole thing becomes improbable. Now try to imagine an environment with the floating rocks that creates many micro-environments, and when I say many, I don't mean millions or not even billions; more like the number "Googol" comes to mind.

Well, this whole thing can be just a crazy thought.

Anyway, I do enjoy your programme very much.

Best regards to you and your crew.


Tibi Vasilescu

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 21/12/2009 18:30:06 by _system »


Offline RD

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Could floating rocks have been a cradle for life?
« Reply #1 on: 22/12/2009 12:27:37 »
Chemosynthetic life does not need sunlight or air, so need not be [floating] on the surface ...
« Last Edit: 22/12/2009 12:31:09 by RD »


Offline LeeE

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Could floating rocks have been a cradle for life?
« Reply #2 on: 22/12/2009 23:07:08 »
The floating pumice idea is interesting but a bit flawed, I think.  While there certainly could have been large amounts of pumice floating around after large volcanic eruptions, it wouldn't have lasted long enough to play an evolutionary role.  Floating pumice is a relatively short-term phenomenon; if it were not, our seas and oceans would be clogged up with it by now.

The regular tides created by our unfeasibly large moon offer a better solution
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!


Offline litespeed

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Could floating rocks have been a cradle for life?
« Reply #3 on: 06/02/2010 20:41:57 »
Origin of Life discussions remind me or Origin of Universe discussions. We have rather good evolutionary descriptions of both. But rather meager ideas on the actual source of either.