F Rosa Rubicondior: Abiogenesis News - Creationism's Favourite God-Shaped Gap Just Got Smaller Again

Thursday 25 February 2021

Abiogenesis News - Creationism's Favourite God-Shaped Gap Just Got Smaller Again

“Protocells” containing bubble-like compartments formed spontaneously on a mineral-like and encapsulated fluorescent dye. This could have been what happened 3.8 billion years ago when cells first began to form.

Image: Karolina Spustova.
Evidence That Earth’s First Cells Could Have Made Specialized Compartments

No wonder Creationists often come across as paranoid. At times it must feel as though their favourite dogmas and god-shaped gaps are under siege by science and constantly in danger of being overthrown or closed altogether, like so many former gaps in which they sat their favourite god(s); all found to be empty when science shone a light in them.

One of their favourites, and often their only fall-back position, is that abiogenesis hasn't been explained by science, and that easily becomes a claim that it can't be explained without resort to magic by a magic man because living things contain special god-magic called 'life' that can't be identified or even explained.

Then along comes another paper, like this one from scientists at the University of Oslo, published by the Biophysics Society, that chips away a little more at this dogma, by showing not only how simple cells got started but by showing how 'life' is simply chemical and physical processes, all understandable as properties of matter, with no magic involved.

This paper is yet another in a long line of papers all reducing the size of creationism's god-shaped abiogenesis gap, and deals with how proto-cells became internally organised, in this case, with the formation of 'bubbles' or vacuoles that are a fundamental part of living cells today.

The Biophysical Society press release explains:
Scientists have long speculated about the features that our long-ago single-celled ancestors might have had, and the order in which those features came about. Bubble-like compartments are a hallmark of the superkingdom to which we, and many other species including yeast, belong. But the cells in today’s superkingdom have a host of specialized molecules that help make and shape these bubbles inside our cells. Scientists wondered what came first: the bubbles or the shaping molecules? New research by Karolina Spustova, a graduate student, and colleagues in the lab of Irep Gözen at the University of Oslo, shows that with just a few key pieces these little bubbles can form on their own, encapsulate molecules, and divide without help. Spustova will present her research, which was published in January, on Wednesday, February 24 at the 65th > Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society.

3.8 billion years ago is about when our long ago single-cell ancestor came to be. It would have preceded not only complex organisms in our superkingdom, but also the more basic bacteria. Whether this “protocell” had bubble-like compartments is a mystery. For a long time, scientists thought that these lipid-bubbles were something that set our superkingdom apart from other organisms, like bacteria. Because of this, scientists thought that these compartments might have formed after bacteria came to exist. But recent research has shown that bacteria have specialized compartments too, which led Gözen’s research team to wonder—could the protocell that came before bacteria and our ancestors have them? And if so, how could they have formed?
And of course, as anyone capable of adult thinking could have told them, it was all perfectly natural with no magic involved; the entire thing was the inevitable result of chemistry and physics:
The research team mixed the lipids that form modern cell compartments, called phospholipids, with water and put the mix on a mineral-like surface. They found that large bubbles spontaneously formed, and inside those bubbles, were smaller ones. To test whether those compartments could encapsulate small molecules, as they would need to do to have specialized functions, the team added fluorescent dyes. They observed that these bubbles were able to take up and hold onto the dyes. They also saw instances where the bubbles split, leaving smaller “daughter” bubbles, which is “something like simple division of the first cells,” Spustova says. All of this occurred without any molecular machines, like those we have in our cells, and without added energy.

The idea that this could have happened on Earth 3.8 billion years ago is not inconceivable. Gözen explained that water would have been plentiful, plus “silica and aluminum, which we used in our study, are present in natural rocks.” Research shows that the phospholipid molecules could have been synthesized under early Earth conditions or reached Earth with meteorites. Gözen says, “these molecules are believed to have reached sufficient concentrations to form phospholipid compartments.” So, it is possible that the ancient “protocell” that came before all the organisms currently on Earth, had everything it needed for bubble-like compartments to form spontaneously.
And the ever-shrinking god of Creationism just shrank a little more...

Spustova, K., Köksal, E. S., Ainla, A., Gözen, I., Subcompartmentalization and Pseudo‐Division of Model Protocells. Small 2021, 17, 2005320. doi: 10.1002/smll.202005320

[Footnote] For a long list of blogposts about abiogenesis and how science is rapidly closing this gap, click here.

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