2009 Annual Science Report

Montana State University Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

Origin of Life and Catalysis - Philosophical Considerations

Project Summary

The philosophy origins of life focus group at the ABRC is interested in exploring the known physical constraints of the origins of life as well as examining the epistemic foundations on which origins of life thought are founded upon. To address these goals, the group consists of persons from divergent studies areas including chemistry and biochemistry, physics, philosophy, and history of science. Synergy resulting from a sustained group interaction of this multi-disciplinary team has resulted in the creation of a number of lines of inquiry that the group is pursuing.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
1 Publication
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

The group has a strong interest in both the physical and meta-physical meanings of quantum theory. Combining this with the ABRC interest in the formation and operation of transition metal containing catalysts has lead to the development of a hypothesis by which quantum attributes of small scale systems is perceived as being a salient feature of catalysis. Briefly, the quantum process of decoherence, or the transition from the quantum to the classical may be treated as a type of measurement process and the determinants of quantum decoherence may also exist as determinants of catalytic processes. This level of inquiry is applicable both in biology in modern day enzymes – and as proposed by work conducted herein – may have been active in the chemistry thought to have occurred at prebiotic mineral surfaces and led to the emergence of life. In addition to this work, a philosophical approach is being taken to the analysis of existing origins of life theory. In this project, plausible histories of life and origins are compared and contrasted in a manner through which major epistemic differences between the theories may become apparent; namely comparison reveals the division amongst theories at the level of organization from organization and spontaneous organization. Through the lens of evolutionary epistemology, these differences may ultimately be perceived as being the result of differentiated groups of scientists arriving – through the best of their abilities – at alternate scenarios that are the result of differing theoretical contexts and scientific expertise and bias. This area of inquiry addresses the possible complementarity and or exclusivity of given theories. The work conducted at the ABRC origins of life focus group relates strongly and will impact origins of life theorists and scientists both at NAI nodes and beyond. Results from the group have been presented at a number of international conferences including the 2008 ISSOL and EANA conferences. Moreover, the group is actively participating in the formation of a special philosophy section at the upcoming AbSciCon. In addition to these conferences, the group has presented work at the NAI seminar series and has invited input from attendees where it is hoped that interaction across nodes may be spurred.

A putative catalytic mineral surface is drawn which is the subject of ligand modification where the position of the ligand may result in either reactivity or non-reactivity. The transition from the quantum to the classical can be conceptualized as occurring in three steps, where a given superposition (A) is the subject of environmental monitoring (B) which results in entanglement and the reduction of the quantum state to a possible outcome© reflecting the fruition of a potential causal chain. This is finally followed by the emergence of the classical state. Prior to decoherence, the ligand modifier (light blue) may be viewed as existing in a superposition of the two depicted states as depicted on the left. Upon exposure to the environment in the middle stage (in this example the possible substrate glycine), the surface possibilities become entangled with the environment, and the catalytic solution rapidly decoheres as it entrains a greater portion of the system, whereas the non catalytic possibility remains, perhaps to be the subject of further quantum measurement.

    Prasanta Bandyopadhyay Prasanta Bandyopadhyay
    Project Investigator
    Gordon Brittan
    Kristen Intemann
    Sara Waller Sara Waller
    Trevor Beard
    Graduate Student

    Shawn McGlynn
    Graduate Student

    Olin Robus
    Graduate Student

    Nathan Haydon
    Undergraduate Student

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 3.2
    Origins and evolution of functional biomolecules

    Objective 3.3
    Origins of energy transduction

    Objective 3.4
    Origins of cellularity and protobiological systems

    Objective 4.2
    Production of complex life.