23 September 2011 Threshold effects in assembling a cell on a young planet
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Abstract
Molecules in the young Earth's oceans underwent a finite number C of collisions during the time interval which elapsed between Earth's formation and the emergence of life. The finiteness of C sets an upper limit G on the number of constituent molecules which could have been randomly assembled into a genetic molecule from a reservoir of the relevant constituent molecules for use in the first cell. A viable cell requires a certain minimum number of genes in order to be functional: this means that the genetic material must include a minimum number M of the constituent molecules which encode for information. The question we address here is: is it mathematically possible for G to take on values which are at least as large as M? The answer is Yes, provided that we allow for the fact that there is a large amount of flexibility ("non-specificity") in the operation of biological molecules. When this flexibility is allowed for, we find that G can be comparable to M provided that the mass of constituent molecules which were available in the pre-biotic Earth exceeded a certain threshold. Our estimates indicate that a mass on the order of a few tons would satisfy the threshold.
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D. J. Mullan, D. J. Mullan, } "Threshold effects in assembling a cell on a young planet", Proc. SPIE 8152, Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology XIV, 815214 (23 September 2011); doi: 10.1117/12.899351; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.899351
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