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historical figures in evolution

Evolution After Darwin: Stanley L. Miller

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Stanley L. Miller (1930-2007).

As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Miller became famous in 1951 by showing that what Oparin claimed, could be achieved in practice: it was possible to produce amino acids from molecules containing carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, simulating the conditions of a young, lifeless, primitive Earth. Miller designed a very simple device, consisting of a tube through which a mixture of methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water circulated continuously. When he exposed the gasses to an electric discharge, he found that this process induced the chemical reactions.

The resulting culture was cooled and condensed as rain in the simulated ocean. The experiment ran for a week, and when Miller sampled the water, he found that the result was the formation of seven different amino acids. In just three and a half months, he had proved that Oparin was right. Though he had not been able to create life in the laboratory, the essential and functional constituents of life, the raw material that forms life, had been produced. Still, after 60 years of research, it has not been possible to generate life from scratch in a laboratory.

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