1 - origin 
2 - biomol. 
3 - biomol2 
4 - viruses
5 - prokaryon 
6 - endosym 
7 - eukaryon 
8 - energy 
9 - mitosis 
10 - meiosis 
11 - reprod 
12 - genetics 
13 - humgene 
14 - humge2 
15 - evolution 
16 - evolutio2 
17 - diversity 
18 - diversi2 
19 - tissues 
20 -digestive 
21 - respirat 
22 - circul 
23 - excret 
24 - endocr 
25 - receptors 
26 - nervsys 

Bio 103 Lab  
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Biology 102 - General Biology
The Origin of Life

The current explanation of the origin of our one known universe is what is called the BIG BANG, the cosmic explosion that occurred 13.7 billion years ago. (There is evidence now that there are multi-verses but you can read about this on your own.

Geochemical studies have provided overwhelming evidence that our solar system including our planet, Earth, was formed about 4.5 billion years ago (BYA).

Current ideas about the origin of the moon say it was formed 4.527 ± 0.010 billion years ago, about 30–50 million years after the origin of the Solar System. The current most commonly accepted theory of the formation of the moon is the "Big Whack" theory. It says the moon was formed from the left overs from Earth's collision with another planet-like body somewhat larger than Mars. On impact with the earth big chunks of the terrestrial mantle were hurled into space to form the moon along with residues of the impactor body. Much of that debris coalesced into a rocky satellite, which was roughed up about half a billion years later by a barrage of asteroids and other interplanetary material, leaving scars in the form of craters.

The primitive earth was very inhospitable to life as we know it. It was extremely hot with a lot of volcanic action and the sunlight's UV light was not filtered out since the unprotected earth had no ozone layer or cloud cover. The early atmosphere was a gaseous mixture of ammonia (NH3), nitrogen (N2), hydrogen (H2), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4) and liquid water (H2O). This highly reducing atmosphere was devoid of free oxygen (O2).


Urey and Miller in 1952 (University of Chicago), and others later, dramatically demonstrated that under conditions which mimicked the primitive earth, using an appropriate energy input, an array of organic molecules including nucleotides (including components of the "genetic" molecule, RNA could be produced). It was believed that on the primitive earth, these molecules accumulated to form an "organic soup" ocean rich in organic molecules and that from this rich pre biotic "soup," life evolved.



However, this view of life beginning from a "Primordial Soup" left a lot of unanswered questions. The next major advance came in the 1980's with the idea of the "RNA World". (RNA you will learn is closely related to DNA, the genetic material in all cells, and the genetic material in some viruses). This RNA world idea originated when some RNA molecules were shown to be able to act as enzyme-like catalysts. While there is reason to believe that life went through an early RNA-dominated phase, there are alternative theories that propose that metabolism came first. The scientists who propose "Metabolism First" look to the core metabolic pathways and networks known to occur in all organisms today to find the primitive biochemical networks that were their progenitors. Metabolism First sees life originating from networks of simple interactive chemical reactions which became increasingly complex and diverse. Then these systems could have taken on the features of replication and selection distinctive of life. We eagerly await the development and progress of the theory and experimental work behind this newer theory.

Microfossils of early organisms date back 3.5 BYA. The first primitive organisms were thermophilic (heat loving) anaerobes, meaning they lived in a very hot world with an atmosphere devoid of free oxygen. In fact, oxygen would have been poisonous to them. Even today we take "antioxidants" to protect us from the harmful effects of too much oxygen. These first anaerobic cells flourished on the surface of the planet for more than 500 million years before oxygen began to play a role in the evolution of life as we know it. The earliest more primitive cells are called prokaryotic cells, the simplest of cells. The more complex eukaryotic cells, of which we are composed, evolved later. (We will discuss these cells types in more detail in future lectures.)

Extreme environments such as the recently discovered submarine hydrothermal vents where life abounds, may be where life on the planet first arose. These hydrothermal vents are likely to be on other worlds such as Jupiter's moon, Europa, or Saturn's moon, Titan, and Mars, where minerals that on Earth are commonly formed at hydrothermal vents were just discovered and life might very well have arisen there.

The free oxygen originated, as it does today, from photosynthesis where H2O is broken down to form oxygen (O2) and hydrogen ions (H+). And also, as today, the important part was the formation of hydrogen ions which were used to reduce carbon dioxide to form organic molecules (the building blocks of plants and animals). The oxygen was toxic and the earliest cells had to learn to cope with this "poison." Some of the early cells learned to "detoxify" oxygen and then some eventually learned to use oxygen for their benefit. We are now dependent on it to "burn" (oxidize) food molecules to produce energy. (We will learn more about energy production in a future lecture).

Oxygen levels on Earth reached a critical threshold to enable the evolution of complex life much earlier than previously thought. The evidence is found in 1.2-billion-year-old rocks from Scotland. The evidence came from a rock found on the coast near Lochinver.



The word porphyrin comes from the Greek word for purple. The porphyrin ring has a Mg (magnesium) ion at its center in the chlorophylls and an iron ion when it appears later in the cytochromes of electron transport enzymes that produce the body's energy. It also forms the "heme"portion of hemoglobin, our oxygen carrying protein, where it also contains an iron ion, Fe, in place of the Mg. It is the Fe ion in hemoglobin that makes our blood red. Nature is a tinkerer and once it finds a useful biomolecule it will use it in many different but related reactions. This molecule appeared early on the earth and was critical in the capture of sunlight in early photosynthesis. There are many porphyrin rings in nature. Since they are in green plants and red blood cells, it has been proposed that eating green plants (they have lots of chlorophyll and therefore porphyrins) will help prevent anemia by providing the basic subunit of hemoglobin.

These first organisms were also heterotrophs (other feeders). (We are also heterotrophs.) These early cells used the "organic soup" to obtain molecules to make more of themselves and to break down for energy. When the "organic soup" became depleted there was selection for those organisms that could manufacture their own food. These organisms are called autotrophs (self feeders). Photosynthesis is an example of a process for making organic molecules to be used as food, both for the organism and for those who eat it. One of the early molecules that was formed was chlorophyll which plays an essential role in photosynthesis by capturing light energy to break down water molecules. The porphyrin ring it contains has magnesium (Mg) in the center. We have a similar organic structure in hemoglobin, our blood protein that carries oxygen. We have iron (Fe) in the center of our porphyrin ring instead of magnesium (Mg). It is interesting how evolution is very conservative, using similar molecules in a variety of functions. We see this over and over in biology. (We will discuss "biomolecules" in a future lecture.)

The presence of abundant oxygen in the atmosphere stopped any further production of organic molecules in the environment and also any new "experiments" in the formation of living cells. Any such de novo synthesis of organic molecules is no longer possible. The molecules would be eaten by an existing organism or oxidized by the oxygen-rich atmosphere. The ability to utilize oxygen to gain more energy, however, resulted in a blossoming in the variety and complexity of organisms on earth. By 500 million years ago there were multicellular organisms and most major animal phyla had appeared. The emergence of animals in the Late Proterozoic is believed to have been aided by the oxygenation of Earth's atmosphere and oceans about 580 million years ago. Humans (and their immediate ancestors) appeared only within the last one to two million years!

As you progress through the course you can refer back to this

History of the Major Events in the Evolution of Life on our Planet.