Creating Life from RNA

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Excerpt Recent studies have suggested that the earliest life sprang from RNA, and two scientists have successfully created a strand of RNA that startlingly mimics the way primitive life is believed to have developed. Continue reading

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As is well known by readers of this column, scientists have been trying to create life in the laboratory—or, at the very least, a semblance of what many theorize to have been the original building blocks of life. As has also been discussed previously in this column, recent studies have suggested that the earliest life sprang from RNA, and two scientists have successfully created a strand of RNA that startlingly mimics the way primitive life is believed to have developed.

According to the January 17-23 2009 issue of the journal New Scientist,

A synthetic molecule that performs an essential function of life—self-replication—could shed light on the origin of all living things. The lab-born strand of ribonucleic acid (RNA) can evolve in a test tube to double itself ever more swiftly. This is the first time that an experiment has produced an RNA that can sustain its own replication (Callaway 2009: 9).

Biochemist Gerald Joyce of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and his colleague Tracey Lincoln were the two scientists who accomplished this feat. According to New Scientist, “Joyce and Lincoln created their RNA enzyme, or ribozyme, called R3C, from scratch to perform a single function: stitching two shorter RNAs together to create a clone of itself” (Ibid.).

In the next step, Lincoln redesigned R3C, creating a “sister RNA” that could itself join two RNA strands into one ribozyme. Instead of replicating themselves, both molecules made a copy of their “sisters.” This process is known as cross replication. In this experiment, the pairs doubled until there were no more original strands of RNA. “We just let them amplify themselves silly,” stated Joyce (Ibid.).

New Scientist went on to report:

The team then sought to ‘evolve’ their molecule. They added different versions of R3C ribozyme pairs to test tubes containing a wider range of RNA building blocks….What came about bore an eerie resemblance to natural selection: a few sequences proved to be winners, but most lost out. The victors emerged because they could replicate faster in the face of competition, Joyce says” (Ibid.).

The process of natural selection to which the journal refers could not have begun without the two intelligent designers, Joyce and Lincoln, initiating the process by creating the RNA strand in the first place. This strongly suggests that, if life on Earth indeed began this way, there must have been an intelligent designer to initiate the process, since Joyce and Lincoln’s synthetic molecule did not form by itself.

When it comes to the origins of life, we may never know with absolute certainty what actually happened. According to Michael Robertson, a biochemist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the story of the origin of life “is a historical problem that we’re never going to be able to verify” (Ibid.).


Callaway, E. 2009. “Self-replicator suggests life began with RNA.” New Scientist 201, no. 2691.

Comments Comment RSS

2/19/2010 8:36 PM #

And the reason for this article is...what?

The title suggests that there might have been some role for RNA replication in the biblical creation narrative.

The only premise in the article that I can agree with is that it takes intelligence to design a self-replicating molecule, and that there must have been designed precursors to even demonstrate what was observed in this work. To suggest that natural processes could have assembled a self-replicating RNA is to believe in an event that has a probability of essentially zero, even within a uniformitarian time frame.

For an organization that purports to engage in work to authenticate the Bible, why would you give space to an article that suggests that God created in any way other than speaking all things into existence in six literal days as the Bible clearly says?

Anything else is flagrant eisigesis.

Terrance Egolf - 2/19/2010 8:36:42 PM

2/20/2010 2:13 AM #

I think that Terrance Egolf misses the point of Caesar's article. He is not commenting on the Genesis account; I believe he is simply pointing out that natural selection has nothing to work with unless an "intelligent designer" is involved, even if you start with RNA. Caesar is not "reinterpreting" the biblical account; he is commenting only on this most recent evolutionary speculation.

Dr. Vernon A. Raaflaub - 2/20/2010 2:13:11 AM

2/21/2010 7:51 PM #

God is very clear in Genesis about telling us how life began.

Hannah - 2/21/2010 7:51:40 PM

4/20/2010 12:00 PM #

What is amusing is that atheistic science devotes some of their best resources to prove that even in a test tube, created life still functions, at least partially, as is was intended.  Forgive the crude analogy, but if you took your car radio out of your car, and provided speakers and a power source, viola … it may just work.  
The genius lies not in the ability to take it out of the car and supply alternate power and ancillary speakers.   As Stephen Caesar mentioned, this says nothing about the origin of complex life, and even less, about created life when put into a test tube.   What folly.  I can only hope public tax dollars are not being wasted on this kind of nonsense research.

Dan Callahan - 4/20/2010 12:00:43 PM

7/5/2010 3:43 PM #

Here is a more "meaningful" article on this topic; I agree with Terrance on this one - your article "adds no value" to what the website aims to achieve.

Yes you make a point - a designer is needed - but you also leave readers feeling that abiogenisis might be possible when it is not; - this has been proven again and again mathematically through probabilities, and as we as Christians are aware, through the Word.

Andy - 7/5/2010 3:43:46 PM

3/4/2011 11:30 PM #

I don't think you understand what was needed to build RNA. They only got it right by trying to recreate what the world was like when it was first being formed. not only were scientists not needed, they got it wrong for years based on the simple truth that they were over complicating it. Once it was realized, that in order to successfully combine the building blocks of life you needed to add two of them together in a process of evaporation and only then could they be connected to others. if anything it proves that intelligences took something simple and over complicated it to the point that it simply would not work. it took people taking them selfs out of the equation and trying to recreate nature to make it work. If anything this is the kind of stuff that is disproving God, and should not be aloud to be printed on this site.    

Ivan - 3/4/2011 11:30:06 PM

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