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Suzan Mazur: Princeton Origins of Life Conference Streamed

Princeton Origins of Life Conf. Streamed -- Pohorille: RNA World Death Exaggerated

By Suzan Mazur


In a couple of emails to me, Andrew Pohorille, the most senior NASA scientist working in the Origin of Life field, objected to my recent interview with Arizona State University's Sara Walker, one of the featured speakers at Princeton's Origins of Life conference opening tomorrow.

Pohorille seemed furious regarding comments about the RNA world, although this was a Q&A and I essentially quoted the experts and linked my interviews with them: Pier Luigi Luisi, who characterized the RNA world to me as a baseless fantasy; Stu Kauffman, who thinks the RNA world hasn't worked; and Sara Walker, Paul Davies' collaborator, who told me "most of the origin of life community don't think that's the definitive answer."

NASA is a co-sponsor of the Princeton Origins of Life conference. Pohorille, who will speak on Wednesday about protein structures and functions, said my characterization of the RNA World's failed experiments is an issue that's "highly debatable and arbitrary." I look forward to the arguments this week.

I was delighted to see the decision to stream the January 21 - 24 event on the Internet, following a flurry of emails with organizers encountering initial resistance.

Aaron Goldman, the point person at Princeton for streaming and archiving the conference, emailed saying ANYONE can now log in as a guest and watch the event live.

"You will also be able to ask questions through the chat function," Goldman said, noting further that NASA Astrobiology Institute has developed the platform over the last few years.

Here's a link to the event: and to the conference schedule (Scoop copy here):

I have just run into ISSOL president Dave Deamer here in Princeton, who along with NASA's Wenonah Vercoutere, was awarded $60,000 in research funds last summer by Harry Lonsdale. Deamer says there will be news of developments in his Princeton lecture titled "Hydrothermal polymerization: Nanopore analysis of RNA-like products."

Deamer told me the following in July:

"In the next 10 years of my research I'm hoping to achieve in the laboratory what we would call a self-assembled replicating system. That would be a convincing version of something emerging from [Freeman] Dyson's garbage bag ideas. At the start of the experiment there's nothing there but a mixture of monomers and lipid, but after we put them through the anhydrous cycling process there are polymers present. The next step is to see whether the polymers can function as catalysts, and perhaps replicate in some way."

Meanwhile, John Sutherland, the big winner with Matthew Powner of the Lonsdale Origin of Life Challenge, is presenting on Tuesday.

Sutherland's talk is titled, "Origins of life chemisty -- reconciling the iron-sulfur and the RNA worlds." Stay tuned. . .


Suzan Mazur is the author of The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry. Her interest in evolution began with a flight from Nairobi into Olduvai Gorge to interview the late paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey. Because of ideological struggles, the Kenyan-Tanzanian border was closed, and Leakey was the only reason authorities in Dar es Salaam agreed to give landing clearance. The meeting followed discovery by Leakey and her team of the 3.6 million-year-old hominid footprints at Laetoli. Suzan Mazur's reports have since appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Connoisseur, Omni and others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. Email:

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