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Making Molecules

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Recently we have looked at the incredible design features that make life in the cell possible. Last week we talked about the four requirements of lipids, proteins, nucleic acids and carbohydrates all being functional in exactly the right configuration for life to exist.

Today I would like to look at an additional layer of proof that random non-guided processes are not even remotely possible to explain all of the steps needed. Not only are random processes not the right answer, they are even detrimental to the point of snuffing out life, rather than creating it.

Synthetic chemists can make molecules. Scientists can buy a molecular synthesis kits. Dr. James Tour of Rice University describes this “The molecules that we make are made to perform certain functions. The initial design is important. Sometimes molecular designs are computer-assisted, but more often than not, the initial steps are done on paper. A target must first be drawn or otherwise designated. This is no trivial task. In some cases, chemists have seen the target in a related system; in other cases, they guess the target’s properties on the basis of its molecular weight, its shape, its addends, and its functional capacities.” The procedures that synthetic chemists perform require precise steps of retrosynthesis. Many dead ends are the byproduct and these dead ends are a big problem for biogenesis for at least two different reasons.

First is that each of these dead ends use up important starting materials. This is no trivial matter. Dr. Tour weighs in “Why the retrosynthetic approach to complex molecules? It is because finding a direct path to a target is far too complicated. Dead ends are everywhere; dead products accumulate massively; and, between the dead ends and the dead products, precious starting materials tend to become exhausted. Given poor prebiotic reaction yields, it is impossible to envision a process in which the starting materials generate all of the desired products. We had to go back over and over again to generate molecular intermediates, a process known familiarly as “bringing up material from the rear.” How would prebiotic chemistry bring up its own rear over and over again? It has kept no laboratory notebook to record the previous paths.”

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A second problem is that all of these dead ends cause destruction rather than generation of life, because they create contamination. Purity of chemicals used in synthesis is absolutely paramount. The yields of processes need to be extremely efficient. Tour explains “Few reactions ever afford a one hundred percent yield; few reactions are free of deleterious byproducts. Purification is essential. If byproducts are left in reaction, they result in complex mixtures that render further reactions impossible to execute correctly. Intermediate products are often unstable in air, sunlight or room light, or in water. Synthetic chemists work in seconds or minutes. It is this laborious trench work that separates the men from the boys.”

In conclusion, it is pretty easy to see that injecting anything less than pure efficient chemistry (by a designer) rapidly degrades opportunity for life to exist rather than cause it.