To: All Msg #192, Apr0993 11:26PM Subject: Re: Albert Sabin In article 1prtl8INN2o0@ctronn
From: Richard Harter
To: All Msg #192, Apr-09-93 11:26PM
Subject: Re: Albert Sabin
Organization: Software Maintenance & Development Systems, Inc.
From: email@example.com (Richard Harter)
Reply-To: rh@ishmael.UUCP (Richard Harter)
In article <1prtl8INN2o0@ctron-news.ctron.com> firstname.lastname@example.org (John E. King)
>To: rh@ishmael.UUCP (Richard Harter) wries:
>>This is substantially misleading. First of all, to a large extent,
>>the information that "tells" a cell how to divide is embedded in the
>>laws of chemistry and physics.
>Lets not quibble. The "code" in the DNA is so complex, that it even has
>timers which if slightly off, would result in malformations. The Gnombe
>Project (sp?) is an attempt to translate this code. When done the
>volumes will fill a small library.
I don't have the exact context for my remark, so I can't tell if I
was quibbling or not. However your response is essentially irrelevant
to the question of abiogenesis. The genome project is mapping human
DNA. Human beings are multi-celular eukaryotes; the earliest life forms
that we know of were single-celled prokaryotes. I hope you won't be
offended if I repeat a bit of basic biology that you may not be aware of.
Prokaryotes are single celled organisms without a nucleus; eukaryotes
have a nucleus and other organelles. Prokaryotes have a single strand
of DNA; eukaryotes have chromosomes. Prokaryotes are much smaller than
eukaryotes. The complete genome for a number of prokaryotes, e.g.
E. Coli has been completely determined. As I recall it runs about a
thousand genes. [Correction welcomed.]
I can't be certain what you meant by your remark, but I suspect you
are confusing several points. If, by "code", you me mean the Genetic
code, this is the mapping from sequences of bases in the DNA to
the amino acids that make up proteins. Three successive bases map into
one amino acid. This encoding is universal (all life uses the same
encoding); it has nothing to do directly with cell division.
On the other hand, if you were thinking of embryological sequencing,
you are correct in that changes in the relatively small number of
genes that control sequencing are very likely to lead to malformations.
Again, however, this has nothing to do with cell division. What it has
to with is the formation of organs in multi-cellular life forms. The
reason I mention this is because of your references to "timers".
What I said originally is essentially correct -- cell division itself
is largely driven by physical processes which are essentially independent
of the particular details of the genome. As I recall, I was responding
to an argument about the essential implausibility of cell division
because of the complexity of DNA required. If my recollection is
correct, your point was fallacious, and you have not strengthened it
By the way, a great deal of variation in the DNA of prokaryotes is
>>The probability that DNA molecules can form
>>is 1.0 -- it happens continually. If you mean to say that complex
>>molecules cannot form abiotically, that too is false -- it happens as
>>a regular thing. Come to think on it, your sentence really doesn't
>>say much at all. Maybe you meant to say that improbable things are
>>improbable. Now that we can all agree on.
>I really don`t follow this. I obviously accept biogenesis. I thought
>we were talking origins here?
My apologies. I thought the point was clear. Evidently it is not.
Let me try again.
You posted a well worn argument that the formation of a complex organic
molecule was highly improbable. Now what the argument amounts to is
multiplying a number of probabilities together to get a very small
number. This argument has at least two hidden premises, to wit:
(1) the probability of the component elements being available is as
stated, and (2) the probabilities of union of elements is no greater than
the stated amount.
I believe that you directed the argument to DNA [exactly the same
argument is directed to proteins.] Let us suppose, for the moment
that your argument is correct. Then the formation of complex DNA
molecules is impossible. Why? Because your argument implicitly uses
upper bounds on probabilities and implicitly assumes independence.
But, you say, I know perfectly well that complex DNA molecules form
in life all of the time. Well then, there is something wrong with
those implicit assumptions; they cannot apply universally; the local
environment alters probabilities. As a second line of defense for
the argument you might argue that the living cell is a special environment
and that it holds in an abiotic environment. But again, the argument
is quite general -- it can be applied to all manner of complex
molecules to show that they cannot occur abiotically. And again,
actual fact falsifies the prediction of the argument.
That was the point I was making.
What, then, is wrong with the argument. The thing that is wrong with
the argument is that it puts unrealistically low bounds on the probability
of elements joining. There is no single number which is the probability
of two nucleotides joining -- the probability depends on the concentration
and on the presence or absence of catalysts. The rate of chemical
reactions varies by many orders of magnitude, depending on these factors.
What the argument shows (correctly) is that the probability of formation
of complex molecules by a certain assumed mode of formation is very low.
We infer from this that the molecules were not originally formed in this
manner. Now you may have in mind another unstated premise to the effect
that the mode specified in the argument is the only mode available,
i.e. concentrations are always low and catalysts are never present.
This unstated premise is false.
In short your entire argument only makes clear the improbability of
an improbable event. It has nothing to do with abiogenesis.
Richard Harter: SMDS Inc. Net address: email@example.com Phone: 508-369-7398
US Mail: SMDS Inc., PO Box 555, Concord MA 01742. Fax: 508-369-8272
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