Pollack Laboratory

Uncovering nature's deeply held secrets

Origin of Life

In exploring life’s origin, one conundrum has been the issue of how scattered molecules coalesce to form a condensed mass. Recent experimental results imply a potentially simple answer to this conundrum. In aqueous media, it has been long known that like-charged substances do not repel one another, as expected; they actually attract one another. Feynman referred to this paradoxical attraction as “like-likes-like” and went on to postulate that the attraction occurs because of the “unlikes” that inevitably gather in between, thereby creating the attractive force.

likelike
Like-charged particles or molecules attract one another
because of an intermediate of opposite charges. The
opposite charges arise directly from exclusion-zone
formation.

Feynman’s thesis has been supported by elegant experiments of Norio Ise at Kyoto University and we have recently been able to confirm this thesis with direct evidence (Nagornyak et al., 2009). We found that like-charged gel spheres immersed in water and separated by as much as half a millimeter attract one another; they attract despite the large separation, and after some time they coalesce. Further, we confirmed the expected presence of opposite charges lying in between the spheres. The opposite charges derived from the exclusion-zone that develops around each sphere, generating opposite charges beyond, and in high concentration in between the spheres. Thus, it is true that like-likes-like through an intermediate of unlikes, as Feynman theorized.

We now understand why like-charged entities attract in aqueous solution. The energy mediating the attraction comes from radiant sources, which builds exclusion zones and separates charge. The attraction is therefore energy consuming, although the energy is freely available from the environment.

The upshot is that a mechanism for building condensed masses is now experimentally verified. In order for it to work, all that is needed is water, light, and molecules/particles. Even if those entities bear the same charge, they will self-assemble into a condensed mass. This process is presumably the first step in producing the condensed mass that ultimately became the cell. It is sufficiently simple that one wonders whether life is being produced this very day (Pollack et al., 2009).