For the first time, researchers have reproduced the results of the Miller-Urey experiment in a computer simulation, yielding new insight into the effect of electricity on the formation of life’s building blocks at the quantum level.
In this new study, Antonino Marco Saitta, of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Sorbonne, in Paris, France and his colleagues wanted to revisit Miller’s result with electric fields, but from a quantum perspective.
Saitta and study co-author Franz Saija, two theoretical physicists, had recently applied a new quantum model to study the effects of electric fields on water, which had never been done before.
After coming across a documentary on Miller’s work, they wondered whether the quantum approach might work for the famous spark-discharge experiment. As in the original Miller experiment, Saitta and Saija subjected a mixture of molecules containing carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen atoms to an electric field.
As expected, the simulation yielded glycine, an amino acid that is one of the simplest building blocks for proteins, and one the most abundant products in the original Miller experiment.
Another key insight from their study is that the formation of some of life’s building blocks may have occurred on mineral surfaces, since most have strong natural electric fields.