How to test the hypothesis of the origin of life on Earth using blockchain technology

Published: 2024-02-26

According to the terms of the problem, we have:

  • a hypothesis about spontaneous life emergence
  • a research institute
  • three researchers tasked with experimentally explaining the birth of life on Earth

Two researchers, armed with a bouillon cube and a sense of culinary curiosity, sequestered themselves in the laboratory. Meanwhile, another adventurous scientist, possibly fueled by a penchant for cyber intrigue, decided to embark on a journey into the cryptic realm of encryption and data storage technology (a.k.a. the registry). This technology, dispersed across a multitude of interconnected computers, formed a collective network. The daring scientist believed that this intricate system held the key to unraveling the mysteries surrounding the origin of life, adding a dash of cryptographic flavor to the scientific stew.

Upon reading the solutions derived from the researchers’ experiments, you will discover which approach better explains how life originated on our planet four billion years ago.

This solution is challenging to label as life-affirming, yet it delves deep into the roots, reaching back to 1950 and impressing with the ingenuity of the experimenters. Despite lacking the ability to explore fossilized echoes of early chemical reactions or time travel, scientists managed to elucidate the origin of life.

They based their theory on the idea that life appeared on our planet approximately half a billion years after Earth’s formation, about 4 billion years ago. This marked the birth of the first common ancestor of all living beings, a single cell with a genetic code containing several hundred genes. This cell had everything necessary for life and further development: mechanisms for protein synthesis, reproduction of genetic information, and the production of ribonucleic acid (RNA), responsible for encoding genetic data.

Scientists understood that the first common ancestor of all living beings emerged from the so-called primary broth — amino acids formed from compounds of water with chemical elements present in the young Earth’s water bodies.

At that time, these were mere speculations, unconfirmed by experiments. To confirm or refute all theories explaining the origin of life on Earth, scientists decided to recreate the conditions of ancient Earth right in the laboratory. They simulated the ancient ocean, added gases that could have been present in the ancient atmosphere, and even mimicked lightning. Their goal was to determine if simple chemistry could lead to complex life molecules.

The result of the experiment was astonishing. Through the interaction of chemical substances, they obtained in test tubes five amino acids — the basic building blocks of all proteins.

Some time later, in 2008, researchers reanalyzed the contents of the test tubes, preserved intact by curious minds, and discovered that the mixture actually contained not 5 but 22 amino acids. The experimenter couldn’t identify them several decades ago.

The experimenter who made this scientific breakthrough, demonstrating that complex life molecules such as amino acids can form under conditions simulating ancient Earth, was Stanley Miller.

In another contemporary study, researchers harnessed the potential of blockchain technology. Though the idea of using mathematical calculations to explain the process of life’s emergence on Earth seems unconventional, considering its association with the financial sector, researchers applied blockchain networks to calculate necessary reactions.

To apply the blockchain network for these calculations, researchers first selected a set of initial molecules present on early Earth — water, methane, and ammonia — establishing rules, or theories, about which reactions could occur between the molecules. They then utilized this model to calculate the most probable reactions on blockchain networks of distributed computing.

Scientists aimed to understand how primitive forms of metabolism could arise on Earth without the involvement of enzymes. To achieve this, they had to simulate over 4 billion chemical reactions, which, according to scientists, played a crucial role in the origin of life on early Earth.

Thanks to their experience with distributed networks, scientists found that among nearly five billion reactions produced, only a few reaction cycles turned out to be “self-replicating” — molecules creating copies of themselves. It is assumed that this property played a central role in the emergence of life, but the vast majority of its known manifestations require complex macromolecules.

The results obtained by researchers showed that with only small molecules, self-replication is a rare event. Therefore, according to the authors, this property appeared later in the evolutionary process.

In the end, the collaborative work of chemists and IT specialists demonstrated how, thanks to distributed computing, science can become more accessible to researchers in small universities and institutes. It also showed that some primitive forms of metabolism could arise even without the involvement of enzymes.

The author of this ambitious experiment, combining elements of chemistry and computation, is the Polish scientist — chemist Bartosz A. Gzhibovsky.

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