CP-2156 Life In The Universe

 

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[19] In his introductory remarks to the Conference, Tom Young told us of his faith, his conviction, that someday we will "find life out there." It is not unlikely, however, that we may not. And if we do not, we still have to acknowledge that life originated someplace, at least in one place. We currently assume that this occurred as a result of a continuing process of chemical evolution that is always going on in the Cosmos. Scientists have been exploring various aspects of how this may have happened for at least 50 years. I recall some very early experiments of the Nobel laureate, Otto Meyerhof, who was a biochemist, and who-just to play a long shot-used to put big bottles full of inorganic and organic chemicals on the shelf in his laboratory, sterilize them, and let them sit there while he went about his business for the next 20 or 30 years. He was hoping, of course, that some day the miracle would occur, that suddenly some life would appear in one of his bottles.

More sophisticated laboratory experiments of this type have been in full swing during the last 50 years, and these will be reviewed later by Sherwood Chang. The early steps in this process of chemical evolution are becoming fairly well understood, but the critical step in the formation of life, namely, the origin, the actual origin of a replicating system, is still very, very far away. We still do not have a good handle on that question. Partly, this is because we do not have adequate understanding of the actual local environment over the time frame within which this took place, and it is my belief that the kinds of space activities in which the United States and the Soviet Union are engaged, in exploring the Solar System, sooner or later will aid in this understanding by giving us a better picture of what the terrestrial environment was like at the time that these beginning processes were taking place.

 

Harold P. Klein
Director of Life Sciences
Ames Research Center


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