On August 5, 2015, I published a blog post, “Life Is Inexplicable”, reviewing contrasting views on the origin of life (Addy Proos and Richard Dawson). I received a lot of interest in that post. The link to that post is:
My discussions in “Life Is A Journey” further discussed these questions; see this link
My opinion remains contrary to the random-mechanism scientists, (Dawkins and Hoffman), (9, 12) who believe life rose by only random, physical encounters of, first, organic chemicals, then “living molecules”. These scientist believe that living DNA replicates itself, and all life by random mistakes without a purpose. I concluded that in spite of remarkable findings in nano technology, I believe a mystery remains. This mystery is: from where does Dr. Proos’ “engine” came? What continues to drive “the engine in the car” (the living cell) uphill against Newton’s Second Law of Motion. Furthermore what has sustained this mysterious force for several billion years? (2)
Now David Bugen reports new genetic studies yielding findings that have accentuated my questions. (1)
For most of the last 40 years, scientists thought that the primary way new genes were born — was that they just arose from copies of existing genes. The old version went on doing its job, and the new copy became free to evolve novel functions.
David Begun reports: “Certain genes, however, seem to defy that origin story. They have no known relatives, and they bear no resemblance to any other gene. They’re the molecular equivalent of a mysterious beast discovered in the depths of a remote rainforest, a biological enigma seemingly unrelated to anything else on earth.”
The mystery of where these orphan genes came from has puzzled scientists for decades. But in the past few years, a once-heretical explanation has quickly gained momentum — that many of these orphans arose out of so-called junk DNA, or non-coding DNA, the mysterious stretches of DNA between genes. “Genetic function somehow springs into existence,” – David Begun (1))
Begub coins the term: “Promiscuous proteins”, “De novo genes are also part of a larger shift, a change in our conception of what proteins look like and how they work. De novo genes are often short, and they produce small proteins. Rather than folding into a precise structure — the conventional notion of how a protein behaves — de novo proteins have a more disordered architecture. That makes them a bit floppy, allowing the protein to bind to a broader array of molecules. In biochemistry parlance, these young proteins are promiscuous.”
Begun continues: “Scientists don’t yet know a lot about how these shorter proteins behave, primarily because standard screening technologies tend to ignore them. Most methods for detecting genes and their corresponding proteins pick out long sequences with some similarity to existing genes. It’s easy to miss these,”
“That’s starting to change. As scientists recognize the importance of shorter proteins, they are implementing new gene discovery technologies. As a result, the number of de novo genes might explode. We don’t know what things shorter genes do,” Masel said. “We have a lot to learn about their role in biology.”
The questions and unknowns that I raised in “Life I Still Inexplicable” are even greater in light of the genetic findings reported by Begun.
Scientists also want to understand how “de novo genes get incorporated into the complicated network of reactions that drive the cell, a puzzling problem. It’s as if a bicycle spontaneously grew a new part and rapidly incorporated it into its machinery, even though the bike was working fine without it. The question is fascinating but entirely unknown,”(1)
“A human-specific gene called ESRG illustrates this mystery particularly well. Some of the sequences are found in monkeys and other primates. But it is only active in humans, where it is essential for maintaining the earliest embryonic stem cells. And yet monkeys and chimps are perfectly good at making embryonic stem cells without it. “It’s a human-specific gene performing a function that must predate the gene because other organisms have these stem cells as well,” McLysaght said.
“How does novel gene become functional? How does it get incorporated into actual cellular processes?” McLysaght said. “To me, that’s the most important question at the moment.”
In my opinion, Life is even more inexplicable in light of “promiscuous proteins” and “Orphan Genes”.
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Charles Clanton Rogers, MD, FACR, Emeritus Professor, GWU September 1, 2015
(1) Emily Singer and Skip Sterling, A Surprise Source of Life’s Code Emerging data suggests the seemingly impossible — that mysterious new genes arise from “junk” DNA Quanta Magazine | reported in The Scientific American, August 31, 2015
(2) Pross, Addy, What is Life,? : How Chemistry Becomes Biology. Oxford University Press. 2012
(3) Hal Hellman, Special to The Washington Post, September 9, 1998; Page H01
(4) Giorgio de Santillana, The Crime of Galileo
(6) Norman, Andrew, Charles Darwin,: Destroyer of Myths
(7) Isaacson, Walter, Einstein,: His Life and Universe
(8) Andrew Berry and James WatsonWatson, DNA
(9) Dawkins, Richard, The Selfish Gene 30th Anniversary Edition
(10) Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens,: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND, HarperCollins, 443 pages, 2014
(11) Fred Hoyle, the well-known astronomer, the likelihood of such an event would be similar to that of a whirlwind blowing through a junkyard and assembling a Boeing 747. Life’s organized complexity is strange, very strange. And how it came about is even stranger. Cited by Pross (1)
(12) Hoffmann, Peter M.. Life’s Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from ChaosPerseus Books Group, , Philadelphia(Kindle ). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.”When we try to define life, we run into difficulties, There seems to be something indefinable, some particular ingredient that separates inanimate mater from living flesh… ‘life force.”