Biology

Making matter come alive: Lee Cronin on TED.com

Posted by: Emily McManus

Before life existed on Earth, there was just matter, inorganic dead “stuff.” How improbable is it that life arose? And — could it use a different type of chemistry? Using an elegant definition of life (anything that can evolve), chemist Lee Cronin is exploring this question by attempting to create a fully inorganic cell using a “Lego kit” of inorganic molecules — no carbon — that can assemble, replicate and compete. (Recorded at TEDGlobal 2011, July 2011, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Duration: 15:11.)

Watch Lee Cronin’s talk on TED.com, where you can download it, rate it, comment on it and find other talks and performances from our archive of 1,000+ TEDTalks.

Comments (2)

  • Dan Callahan commented on Sep 30 2011

    Lee –
    I have a deep respect for your enthusiasm and your desire to take a fresh look at a 2000 year old problem. However, although I would find you to be an excellent golfing buddy, your efforts are going to prove utterly dead-ended. (Although I really like the sport coat you were wearing… where did you buy it? …I want to pick one up for myself!).
    1. Your examination of replicating crystalline structures and comparing this to a cell is like comparing bricks falling off of an aging building (due to gravity and weather) with the inside of a complex factory where machines are manufactured and assembled. They are two different worlds and are so utterly unlike each other they don’t even bear comparison. Yes, movement happens on both locations. But this is a tired topic and was well covered by Dr. Dean Kenyan in the 1970s when he reversed his own “chemical evolution” position and turned to ID as the only plausible and rational explanation. Sorry, Lee, but you’re asking many old questions in a new way, yet the answers will still be as they were.

    2. Your hair splitting attempt to redefine life from nonlife in no way aids in folk’s understanding of either. It did more, Sir, to confuse, I fear. Surely, you understand just how complex a cell is and how simplistic replicating chemical crystals really are. (Am I missing something?) Why would you put them side by side and suggest one (on steroids, in a lab) could be pushed to lead to another? In order to understand your point should be take a step back or go deeper into the evidence? Neither will support your assertions.

    3. Using the term evolution, no matter how you define it or adjust it to suit your passion, does not close the gap that you assert will be closed in two years or two million years. Time and fuzzy definitions simply don’t solve ignorance or complexity. I respect your optimism but, Sir, however, I believe you are reaching into a black box of ignorance and letting the romance of Evolution to create intelligence where it does not exist. Dr. Richard Dawkins has way too much of your ideas locked up in his fairly tale-ish thinking. I predict and fear, Sir, you will discover a new non-living crystal-like chemical reaction and claim you have made life out of non-life. Sorry, it won’t convince me or many others. It may convince those who know neither chemistry nor biology.

    4. Don’t forget, the 3B base pairs inside a human DNA-bearing cell (not a bacteria cell) represent intelligence., a code base, if you will. The reason we get many more than 3B possibilities across humanity is because of the exponential **additional** possibilities produced by protein folding, which, as you know, is an order-of-magnitude (at least) more complex then genomics. (I would enjoy your revised analysis once you have studied proteomics for a while). In your suave style that Dr. Dawkins would be proud of, you really wave a wand at the very definition that you’re trying to put under a microscope. Sir, you inadvertently made thousands of folks who don’t know better–to believe in magic. Have you met or read any of the work of Dr. Stephen C. Meyer or Dr. William A. Dembski? I recommend them to your attention. You have a real contribution to make (I am sincere in this belief) but not on the current path you’re taking, Sir. (BTW: the **presence** of intelligence is what has led them to claim they perceive design, not the absence of anything (except for a biological pathway that you’re trying to construct)).

    Best Regards,
    Dan