A Harvard biologist published a paper three weeks ago recanting a previous article and admitting that his preconceived beliefs led him to faulty conclusions, leaving him with a gaping hole in his findings that current evolutionary theories simply cannot explain.
In a 2016 paper published in Nature Chemistry, Jack Szostak, a Nobel Prize laureate and Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, made a discovery he labeled a “synthetic tour de force”. He claimed that he had discovered a way for ribonucleic acid (RNA) to replicate itself. His discovery was a powerful proof for the evolutionary model of the beginning of life.
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is necessary for the production of enzymes so it is an essential element for all forms of life. Evolutionary theory states that RNA was among the first molecules to develop and that RNA had to exist for life to exist. RNA, as it is found in cells today, is a complex and unstable molecule requiring its own enzymes to reproduce. For the first RNA to develop at a pre-biotic stage in world history, it would need to be self-reproducing, existing without these enzymes already in place.
Solving this RNA puzzle, identical to the riddle of the chicken and the egg, is so essential to the evolutionary model that researchers have been working on it for over 50 years.
Szostak claimed to have facilitated RNA self-replication in his lab without these enzymes, proving that RNA could fit into the evolutionary model and did not spontaneously appear. His experiment involved combining elements believed to have existed in the primal earth environment, including heating, water and phosphates, and irradiating the result. These laboratory conditions are intended to resemble those of the life-originating “warm little pond” hypothesized by Charles Darwin, who theorized that the pond “evaporated, got heated, and then it rained and the sun shone.”
“Ribonucleotides are simply an expression of the fundamental principles of organic chemistry,” said organic chemist John Sutherland of the University of Manchester, co-author of the original study. “They’re doing it unwittingly. The instructions for them to do it are inherent in the structure of the precursor materials. And if they can self-assemble so easily, perhaps they shouldn’t be viewed as complicated.”
It appears that the origins of life on earth are a bit more complicated than the researchers believed. Earlier this month, Tivoli Olsen, a colleague, tried to replicate Szostak’s results but could not. Szostak admitted that his results were inconclusive.
“In retrospect, we were totally blinded by our belief [in our findings] … we were not as careful or rigorous as we should have been (and as Tivoli was) in interpreting these experiments,” Szostak told Retraction Watch.
Without being able to produce RNA in the laboratory in the absence of the necessary enzymes, the ‘warm little pond’ theory of the origin of life does not work. The chemical processes produced in the lab did not, in fact, produce the building blocks necessary for life.
Szostak said that he plans to continue working to unravel “the problem of chemically replicating RNA:”
“Although we are disappointed that that approach does not work, we are going back to the drawing board and looking into other ways of overcoming this roadblock,” Szotak said.
Dr. Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jewish physicist, explained the difficulties presented by the RNA puzzle for the evolutionary theory of the origins of life.
“RNA is phenomenally unstable and it would not last long enough for the myriad of possible chance interactions of molecules to produce similar to life and cells,” Dr. Schroeder told Breaking Israel News. “The RNA would be long gone. DNA is the genetic library but RNA is the workhorse that makes life possible.”
“Evolutionary science has not proven anything about the origins of life,” Dr. Schroeder said. “For sustaining life, the earth is the perfect platform. The origin is an entirely different question.”