Is abiogenesis an unsolvable problem

The intelligent genome pp 52-61 | Cite as

  • Adolf Heschl
  • Herbert Loserl

Summary

The biological sciences, as those disciplines that deal intensively with the study of living systems, made considerable progress in the second half of this century, comparable to the great discoveries and developments in physics in the first half of this century. Today, modern genetics, molecular biochemistry, and physiology are developing at such a rapid pace that it has long since become an impossibility for the individual researcher to have a detailed overview of the state of affairs in even a narrowly defined sub-area. Nevertheless - and this fact must astonish anyone interested in science - there are still not so few fundamental questions of biology that have remained largely unanswered. This situation becomes clearest in the problem of researching the origin of life, biogenesis, itself. Although countless of the processes that make up the phenomenon of life have often already been clarified down to the smallest details, for example the fundamental biochemical relationships and interactions between the Nuclear acids that make up genetic material and the proteins that make up the cell bodies have not yet succeeded in designing a completely convincing model of the origin of life. This is expressed in the fact that up to the present day it is not yet possible to artificially produce a living system in the laboratory, despite the enormous knowledge in this area. Despite the fact that there are not so few promising theoretical and empirical approaches to explain the phenomenon of life, the artificial production of such systems from inanimate components remains an unsolved problem. So is life an unsolvable riddle of nature after all? If we assume, and as biologists we have good reasons to do so, that there must once have been a state of life without any life on our earth, then we would be ill advised to shelve the origin of life as a miracle of nature and no more To conduct investigations. Since, however, a long time ago nothing crawled and flickered on this globe, but then living beings made themselves noticeable for the first time, there must have been a very concrete transition from inanimate to animate, that cannot be shaken. The assumption of a supernatural creation would only shift the problem towards the question of the origin of the supernatural creator and thus ultimately make it even more incomprehensible, instead of making it specifically accessible to a solution to be demanded. The real difficulties in researching the origins of life lie in the new qualities that were able to manifest themselves on earth for the first time with this phenomenon. First of all, there is the new and extraordinary ability to autonomously organize itself, an ability that can only be ascribed to inanimate systems that are not yet alive. The peculiarity of the life process is to be sought in the unusual robustness and stability of the integrated totality of all processes involved, a peculiarity that perhaps also explains the extraordinary difficulties of experimental imitation. Life obviously has to come into being by itself in a critical phase, and any additional help from outside can bring about exactly what is actually to be avoided, namely not allowing the system to begin to live on its own. Biochemist Klaus Dose suggests that the emergence of living systems could possibly have been an event with a critical threshold:

We are now at the essential stage that leads from chemistry to biology: Here a completely new quality arises, that of the physical-chemical world of terms, of material interactions, of atoms, molecules or crystals, of forms of energy and theirs Conversions are mentioned, not occurring: information. Manfred Eigen

The Shannonian concept of information says nothing about whether a message is meaningful or meaningless, valuable or worthless, i. that is, it lacks any meaning, or, in other words, it lacks semantics. In the biological area in particular, this lack can mean a major shortcoming. Hermann Haken & Maria Haken-Krell

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adolf Heschl
  • Herbert Loserl
  1. 1. Konrad Lorenz Institute (KLI) for Evolution and Cognitive ResearchAltenbergGermany
  2. 2. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) WienAustria