Monday, December 23, 2013

The massive improbability of life

I only took bonehead biology. Nonetheless, it occurs to me that as severely improbable as the uncaused appearance of life is in the primeval earth, how much more unlikely would it be that a single cell organism would both: 

(a) randomly become organized from non-living compounds into a living organism, and

(b) also be capable of mitosis, or reproduction. That is an incredibly complex process and the first cell had to get it right the first time. 

That self-replicating life just spontaneously popped into being is to square improbabilities to the point of incredulity. No wonder that MIT mathematician Murray Eden is quoted in the article that the chance emergence of life from non-life is impossible. 

More here:

See also, "A Chemist Tells the Truth." 
How do you get DNA without a cell membrane? And how do you get a cell membrane without a DNA? And how does all this come together from this piece of jelly? We have no idea, we have no idea. 
  • BONDING: You need 99 peptide bonds between the 100 amino acids. The odds of getting a peptide bond is 50%. The probability of building a chain of one hundred amino acids in which all linkages involve peptide bonds is roughly (1/2)^99 or 1 chance in 10^30.
  • CHIRALITY: You need 100 left-handed amino acids. The odds of getting a left-handed amino acid is 50%. The probability of attaining at random only L–amino acids in a hypothetical peptide chain one hundred amino acids long is (1/2)^100 or again roughly 1 chance in 10^30.
  • SEQUENCE: You need to choose the correct amino acid for each of the 100 links. The odds of getting the right one are 1 in 20. Even if you allow for some variation, the odds of getting a functional sequence is (1/20)^100 or 1 in 10^65.
The final probability of getting a functional protein composed of 100 amino acids is 1 in 10^125. Even if you fill the universe with pre-biotic soup, and react amino acids at Planck time (very fast!) for 14 billion years, you are probably not going to get even 1 such protein. And you need at least 100 of them for minimal life functions, plus DNA and RNA. 
Let's take a look at that 10^125:1 odds of getting a single protein working by chance. Just to eyeball the number, here it is: 


This is a 10 followed by 125 zeroes. Excel spreadsheet writes it as 1E+126.

Now bear with me: The area of the earth in square inches is 790,453,002,240,000,000 (790 quadrillion-plus). In Excel, that is rendered 7.90E+18 (to two decimal places). 

How many earths would it take to equal 10^125 square inches? 

It would take 1.27E+108 earths.  That looks like this:

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planet earths.

Now imagine that all of these earths are covered completely with Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies, which are close enough to a square inch in size to work for illustrations purposes. One single cookie is missing its chocolate outer coating. One. Single. Cookie.

Your task is to find that odd cookie. You can pick up, examine and return one cookie per second, and we will assume there is no time between cookies and that you will never need to take a break for any reason.

How long will elapse before you have examined half the cookies? The answer is 1.59E+118 years. 

The universe is said by scientists to 14.5 billion years old. So to have only a 50 percent chance of finding the defective cookie, at random, turning over one per second, you would need to spend 1.09E+108 times as long as the universe has been in existence. 

These calculations knock flat the idea that “given enough time” anything can happen by random chance. There just has not been enough time, by quadrillions of quadrillions of years, for even a half-chance to get one functional protein by chance, and you need at least 100 proteins for even the simplest unicellular organism. Plus DNA and RNA, which have their own probability issues. 

So since "random chance" simply does not work, what's the answer to how life began?

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