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Biological Evolution

Formation of protobionts

Abiotically produced molecules can spontaneously self assemble into droplets that enclose a watery solution and maintain a chemical environment different from their surroundings. Scientists call these spheres as ‘protobionts’. Liposomes are lipids in a solution that can self assemble into a lipid bilayer. Some of the proteins inside the liposomes acquired the properties of enzymes resulting in fast multiplication of molecules.

The coacervates with nucleoprotein and nutrients had a limiting surface membrane that had the characters of a virus or free living genes. Sub sequently number of genes united to form ‘proto viruses’ somewhat similar to present day viruses. Two major cell types that appeared during this time were significant. One form of the earliest cell contained clumps of nucleoproteins embedded in the cell substance.

Such cells were similar to the Monera. They are considered as ancestral to the modern bacteria and blue green algae. The other form of earliest cells contained nucleoprotein clumps that condensed into a central mass surrounded by a thin membrane.

This membrane separated nucleoproteins from the cell substances. Such cells were referred to as Protista. When the natural sources of food in the ocean declined in course of time the ancestors of Monera and Protista had to evolve different methods for food procurement. These may be summarized as parasitism, saprophytism, predator or animalism and chemosynthesis or photosynthesis. When the number of photosynthetic organisms increased there was an increase in the free O2 in the sea and atmosphere.

CH4 + 2O2 → CO2 + 2H2O
4NH3 + 3O2 → 2N2 + 6H2O

The atmospheric oxygen combined with methane and ammonia to form CO2 and free nitrogen. The presence of the free O2 brought about the evolution of aerobic respiration which could yield large amounts of energy by oxidation of food stuffs. Thus Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes evolved.

Experimental approach to the origin of life

Urey and Miller (1953), paved way for understanding the possible synthesis of organic compounds that led to the appearance of living organisms is depicted in the Fig. 6.1. In their experiment, a mixture of gases was allowed to circulate over electric discharge from an tungsten electrode. A small flask was kept boiling and the steam emanating from it was made to mix with the mixture of gases (ammonia, methane and hydrogen) in the large chamber that was connected to the boiling water.

The steam condensed to form water which ran down the ‘U’ tube. Experiment was conducted continuously for a week and the liquid was analysed. Glycine, alanine, beta alanine and aspartic acid were identified. This Miller’s experiments had an insight as to the possibility of abiogenetic synthesis of large amount of variety of organic compounds in nature from a mixture of sample gases in which the only source of carbon was methane. Later in similar experiments, formation of all types of amino acids, and nitrogen bases were noticed.
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