In the 1950s, Stanley Miller did some experiments which aimed to simulate atmospheric conditions on a lifeless primordial Earth. His theory was that organic compounds could come from inorganic processes, and he was mostly right. His experiments with boiling water, gases and electricity (simulating lightning) created amino acids which are commonly found in proteins. Miller died last year, and a former student of his Jeffrey Bada inherited some of his belongings.
Bada has just published findings, using current techniques, that even more types of amino acids at higher yields were created by these experiments. So the experiment shows that basic abundant gases (methane, ammonia, hydrogen), heat, water and electricity are enough to create compounds that may be the origin of life on Earth.
I always found Miller’s experiments fascinating, and this is a new twist. It’s tempting to think that over thousands or even millions of years, life gradually emerged from specific chemical conditions on early Earth. Many more millions of years of evolution took single celled bacteria to multicellular lifeforms to more complex aquatic life, and so on. Each step very simple, but the overall result over very long time periods gives rise to breathtaking complexity.
In my work too, I believe in gradual improvement and building up over time rather than in sudden radical overhaul, sudden gain, and spurious complexity that just doesn’t add up. Complexity cannot come quickly and be natural and sustainable too. How many websites just don’t make sense because there is no simplicity behind all those complex options, offers and links to click? I liked the approach described by the Stack Overflow team on a recent podcast: Jeff Atwood said that if he didn’t do a little something to improve the site every day, he didn’t feel like he’d got anything done that day.