Urey and Miller Experiment

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By the 1950s, scientists were in hot pursuit of the origin of life. Around the world, the scientific community was examining what kind of environment would be needed to allow life to begin. In 1953, Stanley L. Miller and Harold C. Urey, working at the University of Chicago, conducted an experiment which would change the approach of scientific investigation into the origin of life.

Miller took molecules which were believed to represent the major components of the early Earth's atmosphere and put them into a closed system

The gases they used were methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), hydrogen (H2), and water (H2O). Next, he ran a continuous electric current through the system, to simulate lightning storms believed to be common on the early earth. Analysis of the experiment was done by chromotography. At the end of one week, Miller observed that as much as 10-15% of the carbon was now in the form of organic compounds. Two percent of the carbon had formed some of the amino acids which are used to make proteins. Perhaps most importantly, Miller's experiment showed that organic compounds such as amino acids, which are essential to cellular life, could be made easily under the conditions that scientists believed to be present on the early earth. This enormous finding inspired a multitude of further experiments.

In 1961, Juan Oro found that amino acids could be made from hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and ammonia in an aqueous solution. He also found that his experiment produced an amazing amount of the nucleotide base, adenine. Adenine is of tremendous biological significance as an organic compound because it is one of the four bases in RNA and DNA. It is also a component of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is a major energy releasing molecule in cells. Experiments conducted later showed that the other RNA and DNA bases could be obtained through simulated prebiotic chemistry with a reducing atmosphere.

These discoveries created a stir within the science...
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