This study was performed by Dr. Stanley L. Miller to verify that organic compounds of life could have been formed from an atmosphere of methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), water (H2O) and hydrogen (H2) as proposed by A. I. Oparin in 1938. This was in contrast to an earlier theory that life was formed from carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen and water. Electric discharges were believed to play a part in the formation of the chemistry of life.
To test the idea, CH4, NH3, H2O and H2 were circulated through an apparatus designed to give electric discharges to the gaseous mixture. Amino acids formed and were collected in water. The flask of water was boiled and the electric discharge operated for a week.
The boiling water was pink on the first day and was deep red after a week. The organic compounds produced were extracted with ether. The compounds included alpha-alanine, beta-alanine, glycine, aspartic acid, and others, probably.
CONCLUSION: Amino acids were produced in boiling water with methane, ammonia and hydrogen flowing past an electric discharge. This study was used as evidence of the theory that methane, ammonia and hydrogen formed amino acids when exposed to natural electrical discharges in remote history.
NOTE: In 2008, the original extracts obtained by Miller were reanalyzed with more modern techniques by A. P. Johnson, et al. A wide variety of amino acids were discovered which were not identified by the techniques used in 1953. The original apparatus was designed to reproduce the gases of a volcanic eruption along with electrical discharges of lightning flashes which “would have been common on the early Earth.”
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