I confess that I’m an Egger so I have some bias as regards the question, Scientists solve chicken and egg riddle
Researchers in Britain have been credited with cracking the age-old conundrum about the chicken and the egg. But are they right?
After the publication of the rather dry-sounding scientific paper, “Structural Control of Crystal Nuclei by an Eggshell Protein,” press headlines proclaimed the answer was… the chicken.
However, one of the paper’s lead authors, Colin Freeman, from the University of Sheffield in northern England, told CNN that the result was not as conclusive as it seemed.
“I would argue that the concept of an eggshell came about way before the chicken, it’s dinosaur or even pre-dinosaur thing. That’s something to talk to an evolutionary biologist about probably,” he said.
So how did a paper about “crystal nuclei” become proof that the chicken pre-dated the egg?
Freeman and his team, which included colleagues from the University of Warwick, were researching a protein found in eggshells called ovocledidin-17. It is also found in chickens’ ovaries, but until the team’s research its purpose was not clear.
Using Britain’s national supercomputer, a machine dubbed HECToR based in Edinburgh, Scotland, they were able to simulate the process of biomineralization, or the production of minerals or solid materials inside organisms.
It was a world first and revealed that one potential purpose of the protein ovocledidin-17 is to speed up the production of eggshell within the chicken so that in 24 hours an egg is ready to be laid.
“What we have really identified is that the protein seems to accelerate the crystallization process so it can make that eggshell appear far quicker. In simple terms it accelerates calcite formation,” Freeman said.
They also found that the egg can’t be produced without the protein ovocledidin-17 in the chickens’ ovaries, so that means that the chicken must have come first. Right?
“Obviously, it’s not really what we were trying to get out of our simulations, but it’s an interesting question isn’t it?” Freeman said.
Quite a few sites have reported the story as scientists find chicken came first. Either answer has its merits, but let’s think about the question of first as part of the much larger question to which the riddle alludes. The first steps towards what would be life were simple chemical bonds. Over time those chemicals and their bonds became more complex leading to relatively simple amino acids. Then chains of amino acids called polymers linked by peptide bonds. Peptides linked and formed polypeptides. These compounds formed independently, but over time stable configurations reproduced themselves. The first sex was a chemical reproducing itself, possibly from a template etched in the mud that bordered a swamp. Imagine a lot of time passing and nature experimenting with different configurations with the most stable and vigorous chemical structure surviving and increasing in complexity. These would have been primitive organisms, but also eggs. Eggs are packets of information that contain the instructions for making another organism. Per the University of Sheffield story the chicken appears to have the ovocledidin-17 required to make an egg shell. Where did the instructions to make ovocledidin-17 come from. It came from the DNA in the egg. A chicken or a human for that matter, is the route by which an egg or it’s DNA can propagate itself. Which includes the instructions for making the proteins to make another egg or gametes in mammals. Coincidentally this story was published just yesterday. Maybe the Light came first – Origins of Life: New Study Shows Adding Ultraviolet Light Helps Form “Missing G” of RNA Building Blocks
For scientists attempting to understand how the building blocks of RNA originated on Earth, guanine — the G in the four-letter code of life — has proven to be a particular challenge. While the other three bases of RNA — adenine (A), cytosine (C) and uracil (U) — could be created by heating a simple precursor compound in the presence of certain naturally occurring catalysts, guanine had not been observed as a product of the same reactions.
By adding ultraviolet light to a model prebiotic reaction, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Roma, “La Sapienza”, have discovered a route by which the missing guanine could have been formed. They also found that the RNA bases may have been easier to form than previously thought — suggesting that starting life on Earth might not have been so difficult after all.
Understanding how life emerged is one of the greatest scientific challenges. There is considerable evidence that the evolution of life passed through an early stage in which RNA played a more central role, before DNA and protein enzymes appeared.
Recent efforts to understand the prebiotic formation of the building blocks of RNA have focused on the chemical formamide (H2NCOH) as a potential starting material to create the RNA bases because it contains the four required elements — carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen — and because of its stability, reactivity and low volatility compared to water. Previous reports have shown that these nucleic acid components — with the exception of guanine — can be synthesized by heating formamide to 160 degrees Celsius in the presence of mineral catalysts.
In their ChemBioChem paper, the researchers show for the first time that guanine can be produced by subjecting a solution of formamide to ultraviolet radiation during heating. The trace gaunine yield was greatly enhanced when minerals and photons were used together. In addition, production of adenine and a related molecule called hypoxanthine increased when ultraviolet light was added to the heating process — a 15-fold increase was seen in adenine yield.
“These results potentially relax some of the requirements and reactions necessary to get life started, because formamide molecules would not have had to be in contact with a particular type of rock when heated on the prebiotic Earth, if the formamide was exposed to direct sunlight during heating,” said Nicholas Hud, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Portrait of Patience Escalier, Shepherd in Provence by Vincent Van Gogh 1888, oil on canvas.
If you have any doubts about how easy it is for someone who works hard in the US to get ahead, consider this factoid from Martin Wolf’s latest comment in the Financial Times, on Raghuram Rajan’s new book (see Satyajit Das’ review here:
Thus, Prof Rajan notes that “of every dollar of real income growth that was generated between 1976 and 2007, 58 cents went to the top 1 per cent of households”.
It isn’t merely stunning, it’s destructive.
Rajan isn’t the first to put together the story line recounted by Wolf, but it is likely that his book does it in a more comprehensive fashion. We noted that Thomas Palley (along with others) was writing about the change in economic policy and the drivers of growth in 2007. He argued that policy-makers retreated from full employment as a goal, since it allows workers to demand higher wages, which in turn causes inflation. Reducing worker bargaining power led to disinflation, lower interest rates led to rising asset prices, which in combination with financial innovation, created an until-recently reinforcing cycle whereby rising asset prices funded consumption. Palley further contended that this was inherently a self-limiting paradigm, and we had reached the end of the road. A host of others, such as Steve Waldman in 2008, described the dangers:
Credit was the means by which we reconciled the social ideals of America with an economic reality that increasingly resembles a “banana republic”. We are making a choice, in how we respond to this crisis, and so far I’d say we are making the wrong choice. We are bailing out creditors and going all personal-responsibility on debtors. We are coddling large institutions of prestige and power, despite their having made allocative errors that would put a Soviet 5-year plan to shame. We applaud the fact that “wage pressures are contained”, protecting the macroeconomy of the wealthy from the microeconomy of the middle class.
Other than some small financial reforms President Obama and Democrats – the great Satans of Socialism – are simply rebuilding the far Right’s beloved oligopoly with professional gamblers – what some would call financiers at the top where they have been for quite some time. To their credit, Democrats do make some progress in their triangulations for working class Americans as opposed to the outright hostility toward any minimum wages or safety nets expressed by conservatives and libertarians. Conservatives and Randians are correct to say we redistribute wealth in the U.S. it takes quite a bit of under compensated labor to make that 58% wealthy. Those at the top are hardly working. I’ve met some of them. They’re not dumb, but their incomes are far greater and out of proportion to their intellectual gifts. So they are not earning vast sums via great ideas. The smartest people in the U.S. continue to be medical researchers, professors, mathematicians, physicists and the like. There have been various books and papers explaining why working class Americans vote to maintain this system which has the ghostly illusion of being fair, free market based and where the myth is maintained that anyone can make it to the top with hard work. That a large minority of American believe things like Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme or financial reform of any kind is a giant leap toward socialism is beyond politics and probably beyond psychology – 300 million people wouldn’t fit into group therapy. That resistance to rationalism – what works, what works for most people most of the time. The mainstreaming of greed, centralizing power among the financial elite without proper babysitting and screaming paranoid accusations of Leninism should anyone try to repair this broken down system. These are among the ways it has made it so easy to con a large segment of the public in accepting their role as debt ridden wage slaves.