Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Stuff I wish I had known when I was in Junior high school science class.

1. Fermi’s Paradox: Scientists estimate that there are 100 billion planets in the Milky Way. Not the universe – just our ‘neighborhood,’ our galaxy. Many of them are older than earth. If life can come into existence spontaneously it potentially could have done so 100 billion times, creating hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of intelligent systems long before Earth even sent out its first man-made radio wave. By now, those other intelligent systems should have invented long range space travel. Wouldn’t their explorations have focused on all the signals coming from Earth? So the question propounded by rocket scientist Fermi was, Where is everybody? Space around earth should be a celestial traffic jam of UFOs every night.
2. Science claims the “Miller-Urey” experiments created life in a test tube in 1952. The Miller-Urey ‘primordial soup’ consisted of hydrogen, methane, and ammonia. Methane and ammonia are both waste products of LIVING things. Very little of it is found in non-biologic formations, and none is found in the sediment layers that predate life. That's kind of like starting with some eggs and saying, "Watch me make a chicken."
3. Amino acids have a ‘twist,’ referred to as being “right-handed” or “left-handed.” The fewer than 20 amino acids created by Miller-Urey were equally divided between “right-handed” and “left-handed.” But amino acids that make up living things are all left-handed.
4. Amino acids also come in alpha and beta. Miller-Urey’s amino acids were equally divided between both. But living things use only alphas.
5. Amino acids are not life. They are the building blocks of polypeptides. The total number of polypeptide combinations from 20 amino acids is 20 to the 146th power, yet only 50 of those combinations are the correct ones for life.
6. Polypeptides are not life, either. They are the building blocks of proteins. The possible number of protein combinations from 50 polypeptides is a number a thousand times larger than that one. Yet out of that immense number, only 250 of those proteins are the right ones for creating a living organism.
7. The right 250 proteins are not life, either. They are simply the building blocks used to create the DNA and structure of all living things. 
8. While amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, amino acids do not ‘join’ to form proteins. That would be like suggesting that bricks join themselves to form a brick wall. Rather, unprotected proteins – such as a conglomeration of amino acids floating in a primordial soup – break down into amino acids.
9. The simplest protein known is ribonuclease. Its ingredients are 17 different amino acids. But it is a chain 124 amino acids long, in exact order. The first two amino acids in the chain are lysine and glutamic acid, in that order. Of the 17 amino acids relevant to this protein, what are the odds of a lysine amino acid linking to a glutamic acid in a primordial soup containing billions of amino acids? If the soup was made entirely of those 17 amino acids and nothing else, the odds are still 1 in 289.
10. What are the odds of those two amino acids, linked in the correct order, linking to threonine, the 3rd amino acid in this protein? 1 in 4,913. With each additional amino acid in order, the odds grow exponentially. To get all 17 linked in the right order, the odds have been calculated at one chance in a number that would be written as a 1 followed by 552 zeroes. That's more than the number if characters in this paragraph and the one above it. That is a larger number than the number of seconds the universe has been in existence. It is a larger number than the total number of atoms in the universe.
11. And even if they did somehow manage to link up, they are still unprotected, floating around in a primordial soup, with no way to replicate. And self-replication is one part of the definition of life.
12. We said earlier that the simplest organism that could be called living would consist of 250 different proteins. None has been found in nature, so they’ve taken the simplest known form, a bacterium with 901 base pairs in its DNA, and are working at stripping away parts of that DNA to make it simpler. They have managed to get it down to 473. But at 472, it is no longer living. And to create an organism with 473 base pairs requires 531,000 instructions, each happening in the right order, at the right time.
13. Now, go back to the amino acid question at the top. Remember, right handed versus left handed, and alpha versus beta? Imagine a bag full of billions of mixed Legos – red, green, white, and blue. Suppose you want to build a white spiral staircase of Legos. Imagine drawing Legos out of the bag, one at a time, 531,000 times, and only getting white ones.
Oh, and just to be fair, you can’t use your eyes, your hands, or your intelligence…
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