ScienceDaily (Dec. 5, 2007) – Life may have begun in the protected spaces inside of layers of the mineral mica, in ancient oceans, according to a new hypothesis.
The hypothesis was developed by Helen Hansma, a research scientist with the University of California, Santa Barbara and a program director at the National Science Foundation.
The Hansma mica hypothesis proposes that the narrow confined spaces between the thin layers of mica could have provided exactly the right conditions for the rise of the first biomolecules —- effectively creating cells without membranes. The separation of the layers would have also provided the isolation needed for Darwinian evolution.
Whether biomolecules originally formed between sheets of mica, in a pre-biotic soup, in clay, or in some other venue, the question still remains as to how any production of biomolecules entails the formation of living organisms rather than merely entailing the formation of simple agglomerations of molecules. On the one hand, biological organisms possess particular kinds of internal organization whereas simple agglomerations do not. In particular, biological organisms possess an internal organization of biological functions relative to the organism which does not exist with simple agglomerations.
This obvious fact indicates that the problem of the origin of life is not primarily a problem of the origin of biochemicals, any more than it is a problem of the origin of biochemical precursors or a problem of the origin of the atoms of those precursors, and so on. Rather, the problem of the origin of life is primarily and centrally a problem of the formation of the particular internal functional organizations which distinguishes life from non-life.
However, the very notion of “function”, in this biological sense, involves the sense of being for something: a process is a function by virtue of it’s effect on the organism. Absent an organism to which a chemical process is to belong and to affect, that chemical process is not a biological function. This makes the origin problem that much more interesting, since the functional organization of the organism is meaningful only in the context of the existence of the organism to which it belongs, yet the existence of the organism rests upon the existence of its internal functional organization. What, then, entails – in a pre-biotic environment – the formation of such functional organization (if there are not yet organisms for which such organization are to have effects on)? Or, is a better question to ask: under what circumstances is the closure of a set of chemical processes simultaneously the creation of a physical context (the organism) for which those chemical processes are a functional organization?