Friday, July 3, 2009

Origins of Life, a Virtual Ocean, and a Million Computers

"'Toy Universe' Could Solve Life's Origins" (July 2, 2009)

"The power of computer processing could one day solve the riddle of life's origin.

"Scientists think life appeared about 4 billion years ago, and ancient rocks on Earth can give us some idea of what the environment was like. Life may have originated in an ocean rich in chemicals. This primordial soup may have been simmering, or it may have been zapped by lightning. Certainly energy of some sort must have helped drive a simple chemical system into a more complex state. But the clues are few, and the picture remains hazy.

"Enter the Evogrid, a computer creation concept that would be a digital version of the primordial soup. The EvoGrid was dreamed up by a group of international advisors and Bruce Damer, the founder of a research company that creates 3-D spacecraft and mission simulations for NASA and the space community. Damer and his chief architect, Peter Newman, are developing the EvoGrid concept by adapting GROMACS, a powerful open source molecular dynamics simulator originally developed at The University of Groningen in the Netherlands...."

The article gives a pretty good overview of current informed speculations about how life may have started on Earth, and how Evogrid, software using distributive computing, would simulate today's models in a virtual 'primordial soup.'

(More about uses of distributive computing at "SETI and More: Scientific Progress Goes 'BOINC' " (April 18, 2009).)

Even with a million computers working on the simulation, the software's simulated ocean may mimic chemical reactions much more slowly than they work in the real world. Even so, I think this looks like a good way of testing mathematical models of how complex molecules may have combined to form the basic machinery for life.
For what it's worth, posts from another blog:

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