Science series telling the story of human evolution through changes in human anatomy.

Origins of Us - Netflix

Type: Documentary

Languages: English

Status: Ended

Runtime: 60 minutes

Premier: 2011-10-17

Origins of Us - Abiogenesis - Netflix

Abiogenesis, or informally the origin of life, is the natural process by which life arises from non-living matter, such as simple organic compounds. The transition from non-living to living entities was not a single event but a gradual process of increasing complexity. Researchers study abiogenesis through a combination of molecular biology, paleontology, astrobiology and biochemistry, and aim to determine how pre-life chemical reactions gave rise to life. The study of abiogenesis can be geophysical, chemical, or biological, with more recent approaches attempting a synthesis of all three, as life arose under conditions that are strikingly different from those on Earth today. Life functions through the specialized chemistry of carbon and water and builds largely upon four key families of chemicals: lipids (fatty cell walls), carbohydrates (sugars, cellulose), amino acids (protein metabolism), and nucleic acids (self-replicating DNA and RNA). Any successful theory of abiogenesis must explain the origins and interactions of these classes of molecules. Many approaches to abiogenesis investigate how self-replicating molecules, or their components, came into existence. Researchers generally think that current life on Earth descends from an RNA world, although RNA-based life may not have been the first life to have existed. The classic 1952 Miller–Urey experiment and similar research demonstrated that most amino acids, the chemical constituents of the proteins used in all living organisms, can be synthesized from inorganic compounds under conditions intended to replicate those of the early Earth. Scientists have proposed various external sources of energy that may have triggered these reactions, including lightning and radiation. Other approaches (“metabolism-first” hypotheses) focus on understanding how catalysis in chemical systems on the early Earth might have provided the precursor molecules necessary for self-replication. Complex organic molecules occur in the Solar System and in interstellar space, and these molecules may have provided starting material for the development of life on Earth. The biochemistry of life may have begun shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, during a habitable epoch when the age of the universe was only 10 to 17 million years. The panspermia hypothesis suggests that microscopic life was distributed to the early Earth by space dust, meteoroids, asteroids and other small Solar System bodies and that life may exist throughout the universe. The panspermia hypothesis proposes that life originated outside the Earth, but does not definitively explain its origin. Nonetheless, Earth remains the only place in the universe known to harbour life, and fossil evidence from the Earth informs most studies of abiogenesis. The age of the Earth is about 4.54 billion years; the earliest undisputed evidence of life on Earth dates from at least 3.5 billion years ago, and possibly as early as the Eoarchean Era (between 3.6 and 4.0 billion years ago), after geological crust started to solidify following the molten Hadean Eon. In May 2017 scientists found possible evidence of early life on land in 3.48-billion-year-old geyserite and other related mineral deposits (often found around hot springs and geysers) uncovered in the Pilbara Craton of Western Australia. However, a number of discoveries suggest that life may have appeared on Earth even earlier. As of 2017, microfossils within hydrothermal-vent precipitates dated from 3.77 to 4.28 billion years old found in Quebec, Canada may be the oldest record of life on Earth, suggesting life started soon after ocean formation 4.4 billion years ago. According to biologist Stephen Blair Hedges, “If life arose relatively quickly on Earth … then it could be common in the universe.”

Origins of Us - Proteinoid microspheres - Netflix

In trying to uncover the intermediate stages of abiogenesis mentioned by Bernal, Sidney W. Fox in the 1950s and 1960s studied the spontaneous formation of peptide structures (small chains of amino acids) under conditions that might plausibly have existed early in Earth's history. In one of his experiments, he allowed amino acids to dry out as if puddled in a warm, dry spot in prebiotic conditions. He found that, as they dried, the amino acids formed long, often cross-linked, thread-like, submicroscopic polypeptide molecules now named “proteinoid microspheres”. In another experiment to set suitable conditions for life to form, Fox collected volcanic material from a cinder cone in Hawaii. He discovered that the temperature was over 100 °C (212 °F) just 4 inches (100 mm) beneath the surface of the cinder cone, and suggested that this might have been the environment in which life was created—molecules could have formed and then been washed through the loose volcanic ash into the sea. He placed lumps of lava over amino acids derived from methane, ammonia and water, sterilized all materials, and baked the lava over the amino acids for a few hours in a glass oven. A brown, sticky substance formed over the surface, and when the lava was drenched in sterilized water, a thick, brown liquid leached out. The amino acids had combined to form proteinoids, and the proteinoids had combined to form small globules that Fox called “microspheres”. His proteinoids were not cells, although they formed clumps and chains reminiscent of cyanobacteria, but they contained no functional nucleic acids or any encoded information. Based upon such experiments, Colin S. Pittendrigh stated in December 1967 that “laboratories will be creating a living cell within ten years,” a remark that reflected the typical contemporary naivety about the complexity of cell structures.

Origins of Us - References - Netflix