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    Origin Of Life: Miller_Urey Experiment

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    The Miller-Urey Experiment

    In 1952, Harold Urey tried to calculate the chemical constituents of the atmosphere of the early Earth. He based his calculations on the (then) widely held view that the early atmosphere was reducing, and concluded that the main constituents were methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), hydrogen (H2), and water (H2O). He suggested that his student, Stanley Miller, should do an experiment attempting to synthesise organic compounds in such an atmosphere.

    Miller carried out an experiment in 1953 in which he passed a continuous spark discharge at 60,000 Volts through a flask containing the gases identified by Urey, along with water. Miller found that after a week, most of the ammonia and much of the methane had been consumed. The main gaseous products were carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen (N2). In addition, there was an accumulation of dark material in the water. Few of the specific constituents of this could not be identified, but it was clear that the material included a large range of organic polymers.

    Analysis of the aqueous solution showed that the following had also been synthesised:-

    25 amino acids (the main ones being glycine, alanine and aspartic acid)

    Several fatty acids Hydroxy acids Amide products.

    The Miller-Urey experiment was immediately recognised as an important breakthrough in the study of the origin of life. It was received as confirmation that several of the key molecules of life could have been synthesised on the primitive Earth in the kind of conditions envisaged by Oparin and Haldane. These molecules would then have been able to take part in 'prebiotic' chemical processes, leading to the origin of life.

    Since the Miller-Urey experiment, a great deal of effort has been spent investigating prebiotic chemistry. It has become apparent that organising simple molecules into assemblies capable of reproducing and evolving is a far greater task than was generally realised during the excitement that followed the experiment. In addition, the view that the early atmosphere was highly reducing was challenged towards the end of the twentieth century, and is no longer the concensus view.

    Although the significance of specific details of the Miller-Urey for the origin of life may now be in question, it began the new scientific discipline of prebiotic chemistry, and has been enormously influential in the development of ideas about the origin of life.

    Copyright Chris Gordon-Smith 2003

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    What Was The Miller

    If the origin of life happened before scientists were around to observe it, how can our origin be studied with the scientific method? This question is answered in our overview of the Miller-Urey experiment.

    What Was The Miller‑Urey Experiment?

    If the origin of life happened before scientists were around to observe it, how can our origin be studied with the scientific method? This question is answered in our overview of the Miller-Urey experiment.


    What Is Life… According To NASA?

    What Is The RNA World Hypothesis?

    Can Science Explain The Origin Of Life?



    This animation was sponsored by the Center for Chemical Evolution, NSF, and NASA:

    The Miller-Urey experiment was the first attempt to scientifically explore ideas about the origin of life. Stanley Miller simulated conditions thought be common on the ancient Earth. The purpose was to test the idea that the complex molecules of life (in this case, amino acids) could have arisen on our young planet through simple, natural chemical reactions.

    The experiment was a success in that amino acids, the building blocks of life, were produced during the simulation. The finding was so significant that it kick-started an entirely new field of study: Prebiotic Chemistry.

    Scientists now have reason to believe that the gases used in the Miller-Urey simulation were not actually the same as those of the ancient atmosphere. Because of this, many experiments have since been done, testing a wide variety of atmospheres and different environmental conditions. The results are overwhelming: the molecules of life can form under a wide variety of ancient Earth-like conditions.

    Many questions about the origin of life remain to be answered but these findings give strong support to the idea that the first living cells on Earth may have emerged from natural chemical reactions.

    For Teachers

    The content of this video meets criteria in the following Disciplinary Core Ideas defined by Next Generation Science Standards. Use our videos to supplement classroom curriculum.

    High School, Physical Science 1


    Georgia Chemistry 3

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    Georgia Chemistry 6


    Our videos benefit from guidance and advice provided by experts in science and education. This animation is the result of collaboration between the following scientists, educators, and our team of creatives.


    Jon Perry Jeremiah Deasey Anthony Danzl Rosemary Mosco Jordan Collver Tyler Proctor Zaid Ghasib Jason Moon


    Christopher Parsons, MSc

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    Nicholas V. Hud, PhD

    Tom Cochran


    The Miller-Urey Experiment:

    Original Paper from 1953 (free access to full paper)

    Biomolecules found in meteorites:

    Research overview by NASA

    DNA molecules in meteorites

    Distinguishing actual space bio-molecules from Earth contamination

    Biomolecules form in asteroid simulations:

    Scientific Paper (free access to abstract only)

    ​Biomolecules form in Volcanic Simulations:

    Scientific Paper (free access to full paper)

    Biomolecules (amino acids) form in non-reducing atmosphere simulations:

    Scientific Paper (free access to abstract only)


    It was once believed that if you left food out to rot, living creatures like maggots and even rats would simply poof into existence. The idea was called Spontaneous Generation.

    A series of experiments starting in the 1600s disproved this idea, and in the 1800s a new scientific law was proposed: Life only comes from life.

    It’s true that rats, maggots, and even microbes are far too complex to simply poof into existence, but in 1859 English Naturalist Charles Darwin put forth the theory of evolution. In it he showed that under the right circumstances, relatively simple creatures can gradually give rise to more complex creatures. Given this information, serious thinkers began to wonder: Is it possible that simple life forms actually could come from non-living matter? Not by poofing into existence, but through a natural gradual process similar to what we see in biological evolution?

    Darwin himself mentioned this idea when writing to friend, “But if (and oh what a big if)” he wrote, ‘we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, and so on present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes…”

    In 1924, Russian biochemist Alexander Oparin published a book which he titled The Origin of Life. In it he outlined his thoughts on a gradual progression from simple chemistry to living cells. He imagined the early ocean as a primordial soup – a rich collection of complex molecules produced by natural chemical reactions. In this soup, further reactions could take place, eventually producing living cells.

    At the time, Darwin’s warm little pond, and Oparin’s primordial soup were really just speculation. They were founded on a good understanding of chemistry and biology but they could not be considered legitimate scientific hypotheses because no one had found a way to test or observe them. Science, after all, is the study of observable facts and an ongoing conversation about how those facts can be best linked together.

    Chemical reactions like those proposed by Darwin and Oparin, are not expected to leave an observable fossil record. Without either having fossils to examine or a time machine to travel back and observe what happened, how could scientists even begin to study the origin of life?

    Source : www.statedclearly.com

    Briefly describe the significance of the Miller

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    Briefly describe the significance of the Miller-Urey experiment.

    Briefly describe the significance of the Miller-Urey experiment. Question:

    Briefly describe the significance of the Miller-Urey experiment.


    Abiogenesis is a vital concept that typically implies that life evolves or arises from non-living matter, generally simple organic compounds. The idea of Abiogenesis helped a lot in explaining the origin of life and thus has a more significant biological role.

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    The primary significance of the Miller-Urey experiment was that the experiment significantly proved that origin of life on the planet Earth had...

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    Stanley Miller: Theory, Experiment & Apparatus


    Chapter 7 / Lesson 14


    Discover what the Miller-Urey experiment demonstrated. Learn what the purpose of the Miller-Urey experiment was. Understand the Miller-Urey hypothesis.

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