The Answer to Chickens and Eggs
One regret I have regarding the demise of Uncommon Descent is being unable to continue discussion with Upright Biped, a regular at UD who believed he had an argument against the natural evolution of the genetic code, which I refer to as his “semiotic hypothesis”.
Whilst wrapped up in impenetrable jargon and idiosyncratic prose, it is/was quite a simple argument: that the first organisms could not evolve the genetic code without already having the metabolism in place and vice versa, an insoluble chicken-and-egg conundrum.
Upright Biped first publicized his idea in 2011, and it was the subject of an OP by Elizabeth Liddle (owner of this site) in October 2011.
I didn’t get involved much at the time, as discussion seemed to stick at the semiotics, whereas I thought Upright Biped’s best point was it would be impossible for a genetic storage system to evolve prior to metabolism and equally for heritable metabolic pathways to evolve without a genetic storage system. A classical chicken and egg issue.
In 2005, I encountered the late Robert Shapiro (over his alleged peer review of Mike Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box) who was a sceptic on RNA World, and he influenced me to adopt the same view. Anyway, Upright Biped continued sporadically to promote his idea at Uncommon Descent and elsewhere without much success, yet I thought the “which first, genetic code or metabolism” conundrum was a strong argument.
Not least due to the input from erstwhile TSZ regular, Allan Miller, I have since changed my mind about RNA World and now find it a plausible idea, and there is more and increasing evidentiary support for RNA World than I knew of in 2005 and 2011.
The brilliant thing about RNA World is that RNA can act as a gene, in that it can and does act as a template for replication and also RNA is capable of being a catalyst, a ribozyme, the RNA equivalent of a protein enzyme. Indeed, RNA is the catalytic heart of cellular metabolic “machinery” that synthesizes proteins, the ribosome. No chickens and no eggs, and critically, no genetic code needed.
I should put in a word for Nick Lane here, whose UCL research group have published many papers on the origin of life from a biochemical standpoint. I recently bought his book, Transformer: The Deep Chemistry of Life and Death, which I recommend as a good summary of the current state of play without being overly technical. There’s a good video of a recent talk here for a recent overview.
I’ve contributed a fair few comments to Uncommon Descent over the years, and been banned a few times, culminating in my disappearance under the pseudonym, Aurelio Smith, back in 2015, since when I’d been content to lurk until, last year I noticed Upright Biped addressing comments to an ID sceptic, JVL, promoting his semiotic argument again. JVL is a mathematician and Upright Biped seemed to have fixated on JVL to the extent of harassing him. So I registered under the pseudonym, Fred Hickson, and added my 2¢.
Unfortunately, force majeure has prevented the discussion with Upright Biped continuing so I hope he’ll consider joining us here.