CHAPTER 6: The Miller–Urey Experiment's Impact on Modern Approaches to Prebiotic Chemistry
Published:29 Jun 2022
The 1953 Miller–Urey experiment was a ground-breaking attempt to understand stages in the origins of life on Earth. In the experiment, Stanley Miller added water and reduced gases to a sealed flask to simulate the primitive atmosphere and hydrosphere, then subjected the contents to an electric discharge to simulate atmospheric lightning. Miller's chemical analysis of the products revealed a number of amino acids used by modern organisms to construct coded proteins, suggesting these may then have been available for the construction of the first organisms. The experiment was inspired by both Oparin's early writings on the origins of life and Urey's conception of the primitive atmosphere. Since the publication of the original results, there has been considerable development in thinking regarding the nature of the primitive environment, as well as a proliferation of alternative, detailed models for the origins of life which do not necessarily hinge on the results of this kind of experiment. Nevertheless, while considerable uncertainty lingers regarding the primitive environment, the Miller–Urey experiment remains relevant to many modern origins of life models, and its impact on modern thinking regarding the origins of life cannot be overstated.