Betül Kaçar: Origin of Life, Ancient DNA, Panspermia, and Aliens | Lex Fridman Podcast #350

You can study chemistry you can study Physics you can study geology anywhere In the universe but this is the only Place you can study biology this is the Only place to be a biologist that's it Yeah so so definitely something very Fundamental happened here and you cannot Take biology out of the equation if you Want to understand how that vast Chemistry space of that General Sequence space got narrowed down to what Was what is available or what is used by Life you need to understand the rules of Selection and that's when Evolution and Biology comes into play The following is a conversation with Batu kachar an astrobiologist at University of Wisconsin studying the Essential biological attributes of life This is the Lex Friedman podcast to Support it please check out our sponsors In the description and now dear friends Here's Batu kachar What is the phylogenetic tree or The Evolutionary tree of life and what can We learn by running it back and studying Ancient Gene sequences as you have I Think phytogenetic trees Could be one of the most uh romantic and Beautiful Notions that can come out of Biology it shows us a way to depict the Connectedness of life and all living Beings with one another It itself is an Ever evolving notion

Biologists like visualizations they like These Graphics these diagrams and tree Of life is one of them so the tree Starts at a common ancestor It's actually the other way around it Starts from at the end it starts from The from the branches it starts from the Tip of the branch actually and then if The further depending on how what you Collected uh to build the tree so Depending on the branches depending on What's on the tip of the branch and I Will explain what I mean the root will Be determined by what is really sitting On the tip of the branch of the tree so We could study the leaves of the tree by Looking at what we have today and then Start to reverse engineer start to move Back in time to try to understand what The rest of the tree what the roots of The tree looks exactly so the tree Itself by just taking a few steps back And looking at the entire tree itself Can give you an idea about the Connectedness the relatedness of the Organisms or whatever again you use to Create your tree there are different Ways but in this case I'm imagining Entire diversity of Life Today is Sitting on the tips of the branches of This tree and we Look at biologists look at the the tree Itself we like to think of it as the Topology of the tree to understand when

Certain Organisms or their ancestry may have Merged over time Depending on the tools you use you might Use this tree to then reconstruct the Ancestors as well And so what are the different ways to do The Reconstruction so you can do that at The gene level Or you could do it at the higher complex Biology level right so what what in Which way have you approached this this Fascinating problem we approached it in Every way we can so it's the gene could Be protein the product of the gene or Species Uh or could be even groups of species it Will depend it totally depends on what You want to do with your tree if you Want to understand a certain past events Whether an organism exchanged a certain DNA with another one along the course of Evolution you can build your tree Accordingly if you Um rather use the tree to reconstruct or Resurrect ancient DNA which is what we Do then in our case for instance we do Both Gene protein and species because we Want to compare the tree That we create using these different Information Okay well let me ask you the ridiculous Question then so how realistic is Jurassic Park

Can we study the genes of ancient Organisms and can we bring the those Ancient organisms back so the reason I Asked that kind of ridiculous sounding Question is uh maybe gives us context of What we can and can't do Yeah by looking Back in time yeah so uh dinosaurs or all These mammals in in at least for us is The exciting thing already happened by The time we hit to the larger organisms Or to eukaryotes oh to you the fun stuff Is before we got to the memo the fun Stuff is what what thing is boring I Think that the the phase that's well at Least two different times in the Geologic history one is the first life Uh past origin of Life how did first Life look like And the second is why do we think that Over certain periods of geologic time no Significant Innovation happened to the Degree of leaving no record behind So what do we not have a record of which Which part is it you the fun stuff to You is after the origin of Life which We'll talk about after the original life There's single cell organisms the the Whole thing with the photosynthesis the Whole thing with the eukaryotes and uh Multi-cell organisms and uh what else is The fun stuff the whole oxygen thing Which mixes in with the origin of Life Uh there's a bunch of different Inventions all that have to do with this

Primitive kind of looking organisms that We don't have a good record of so I will Tell you the more interesting things for Us one is the origin of life or what Happened uh right following the Emergence of Life how did the first Cells look like And then pretty much anything that we Think shaped the environments and were Was shaped by the environments in a way That impacted the entire planet that Enabled you and I to have this Conversation We have very little understanding of the Biological innovations that took place In the past of this planet We work with a very limited set of Um I don't want to even say data because They're fossil records so let's say Imprints either that comes from the Rock And The Rock record itself Or what I just described these trees That we create and whatever we can infer About the past so we have two distinct Ways that comes from geology and biology And they each have their limitations Okay so right so there's an interplay The geology gives you that little bit of Data And then the biology gives you that Little bit of kind of constraints in the Materials you get to work with to infer How does this result in the kind of data That we're seeing and now we can have

This through the fog we can see we can Look back hundreds of millions of years A couple of billion years and try to Infer even further and and I like that You said [ __ ] it is pretty foggy but Weird and it gets foggier and foggier The more you the further you try to see Into the past Um biology is you you basically study With study the survivors Broadly speaking yeah and you're trying To pitch the sort of put together their History based on whatever you can Recover today what makes biology Fascinating also let it Erased its own history in a way right so You work with this four billion year Product that's genome that's the DNA It's great it's a very Dynamic ever Evolving chemical thing and so you will Get some information but you're not Gonna get Much unless you know where to look Um because it is responding to the Environment Yeah so what we have it's fascinating What we have is the survivors the Successful The successful organisms even the Primitive ones even though the bacteria You have today so bacteria is not Uh sorry sorry to offend the bacteria It's we should be very grateful to Bacteria and first of all they are our

Great great ancestors I like this quote By Douglas Adams humans don't like their Ancestors they rarely invite them over For dinner yeah right that bacteria is In your dinner bacteria is in your gut But today is helping you for dinner we Might well they get themselves invited In a way yes and so we and they're Definitely older Um and and definitely very sophisticated Very resilient than anything Um else is someone working at the as a Bacteriologist I feel like I need to Defend them in this case because they Don't get much shout out when we think About life so you do study bacteria so Which organisms gives you hints that are Alive today that give you Um hints about what ancient organisms Were like is it bacterias and viruses What do you study in the lab we study a Variety of different bacteria depending On the questions that we are Engineer bacteria so ideally we want to Work with bacteria that we can engineer Seldom we developed the tools to Engineer them and it depends on the Question that we are interested in if we Are interested in connecting the biology And geology to understand the early life And and fundamental Innovations across Billions of years there are really good Candidates like cyanobacteria so we we Use cyanobacteria very frequently in the

Lab we can engineer its genome we can Perdurp its function by poking its own DNA with the foreign DNA that we Engineer in the lab we work with E coli It's the most simple in in terms of Models systems go goes organism that one Can study well-established sort of a pet Lab pet that we use it a lot for cloning And for understanding uh or basic Functions of the cell given that it's Really well studied so and what you do With that E coli you said that you Injectable foreign DNA we inject as much All the bacteria that we work with with Foreign DNA we also work with Diazotrophs these are azodobacteria They're one of the Prime nitrogen fixers Nitrogen fixing bacteria can you explain What that is nitrogen fixing is that is The source of its energy so nitrogen is A triple bond gas Gets pretty abundant in the atmosphere But nitrogen itself cannot be directly Utilized by cells given it as triple Bond It needs to be converted to ammonia that Is then used for the Downstream Cellular functions and that's what Causes nitrogen fixing yes needs to be Fixed before our cells can make use of It and and it's no offense to nitrogen Either well uh it's actually a very Important element it's one of the most Abundant elements on on our planets that

Is used by biology it's in ATP it's in Chlorophyll um that's uh uses that Relies on nitrogen so it's a very Important enzyme for a lot of cell Functions and there's just one mechanism That Evolution invented to convert it is So far we know there's there's only one Nitrogen fixation pathway as opposed to Say carbon you can find up to seven or Eight different carbon based microbes Invented to fix carbon that's not the Case for nitrogen it's a it's a Singularity across geologic time we Think it evolved around 2.7 maybe Um roughly three probably less than Three billion billion years ago and That's the only way that nature invented To fix the nitrogen in the atmosphere For the subsequent use would we still Have Life as we know today if we didn't Invent that nitrogen fixing step I Cannot think of it no it's it's it's Essential to Life as we know you you and I are having this conversation because Life found a way to fix nitrogen is that One of the tougher ones if you put it Sort of uh oxygen Nitrogen carbon what are in terms of Being able to work with these uh Elements What is the hardest thing what is the Most essential for life just to give Context well we think of this as the Cocktail you may hear what's in the

Cocktail it's the schnapps right carbon Hydrogen oxygen nitrogen sulfur so there Are five elements that life relies on We don't quite know whether that's the Only out of many options that life Necessarily needs to operate on but That's just how it have it happen on our Own planet and um there are many abiotic Ways to fix nitrogen uh and like Lightning right lightning can accumulate Ammonia Humans found a way about a hundred years Ago I think around World War One the Haber bash process that we can Abiotically convert nitrogen into Ammonia actually 50 percent of the Nitrogen in our bodies comes from the Human Conversion of nitrogen ceremonia it's Helped it's the fertilizer that we use Urea comes from that process it's it's Not food so we helped we found a way to Fix our own nitrogen for ourselves yeah But that you know that's way after the Original invention oh absolutely Absolutely and without that we wouldn't Have We wouldn't have all the steps of Evolution along the way oh absolutely It's very we tried to replicate in the Most simplest way what Nature has come Up with Right we do this by taking nitrogen Using a lot of pressure and then

Generating ammonia life does this in a More sophisticated way relying on one Single enzyme called nitrogenase it's The nitrogen that is used together with Eight electron donor and ATP together With a lot of hydrogen life pushes this Metabolism down to create fixed nitrogen It's quite remarkable so the lab pet E Coli inject them with DNA those are the So you call it as nitrogen fixing in Part or is that what's that a different One so some biological Engineers Engineers E coli to fix nitrogen I Believe not not us we use the Nature's Nitrogen nitrogen fixing bug and Engineer it with the nitrogen fixing Metabolism that we resurrected using our Computational and phylogenetic tools how Complicated are these little organisms What talking about it depends on how you Define complication Okay so I I could tell that you uh Appreciate and respect the full Complexity of even the most seemingly uh Primitive organisms because none of them Are primitive okay that said what what Kind of what what are we talking about How how Um What kind of machineries do they have That you're working with when you're Injecting them with DNA so I will start With one of the most fascinating Machineries that we target which is the

Translation machinery It is on a very unique Subsystem of cellular life in comparison To I would say metabolism And we used to Um you know when we are thinking about Cellular life we think of cell as the Basic units or the building block but From a key perspective that's uh not the Case that one may argue that everything That happens inside the cell serves the Translation and the translation Machinery there is a nice paper that Called this that entire cell is Hopelessly addicted to this main Informatic Computing biological chemical system That it is operating at the heart of the Cell which is the translation it is the Translation translation from what to What so RNA to enzymes it converts a Linear sequence of mRNA into a folded Later folded protein that's that's when The uh that's the core processing center For information for life It's uh has multiple steps it initiates It elongates its Um terminates and it recycles It operates uh Discrete bits of information it's itself Is like a chemical decoding device and That is incredibly unique for Translation that I don't think you will Find anywhere else in the cell that does

This so even though it's called Translation it's really like a factory That reads the schematic And builds a three-dimensional object It's like a printer I would divide it Into actually even four more additional Steps or disciplines than what would it Take to study it by the way you Described it it's a chemical system it's The compounds that make it up are Chemicals it's physical it's uh tracks The energy to make its job to do its job Its own informatic what is processed are The bits it's computational the discrete States that the system is placed when The information is being processed That's itself is computational and it's Biological it's a there's variability And inheritance that come from imperfect Replication even and infer imperfect Computation so you're and that's so good So from the biology comes the like when You mess up The bugs of the features that's the Biology informatics is obvious in the RNA that's a set of information there The different steps along the way is Actually kind of what the computer does With with bits its own computation Physical there's a uh I guess the the Like almost like a mechanical process to The whole thing that requires energy and Actually you know it's manipulating Actual physical objects

And uh chemicals because you're Have to ultimately it's all chemistry Yeah and track system for me information So it is almost a mini computer device Inside ourselves yeah and that's the Oldest uh computational device of life It's it's uh likely the key uh operation System that had to evolve for life to Emerge it's uh more interesting Or it's more complicated in interesting Ways than the computers we have today I Mean everything you said which is really Really nice I mean I guess our computers Have the informatic and they have the Computational but they don't have the Chemical the physical or the biology Exactly and and the computers don't have Don't link information to function Right they are not tightly coupled Nowhere close to what translation Or the way translation does it so that's The number one I think difference Between the two And um yes it's it's informatic and we Can um uh discuss this further too 100 Let's please discuss this further which Part are we discussing for each one of Those are fascinating worlds each each Of the five yeah so about we can start With the more I guess the the ones that Are more established which is the the Chemical aspect of the translation Machinery it's uh the specific compounds Make up the Assembly of RNA chemists

Showed this in many different ways we Can rip apart the entire Machinery we Know that at the core of it there's an RNA that's Um That operates not only as an information Information system itself or information Itself but also as an enzyme and and Origin of Life chemists make these Molecules easily now we know we can Manipulate RNA we can make even with Single part chemistries we can create Compounds what's a single part chemistry Um that's I would say when you add all The recipes that you know that will lead You to the final products do is they They come up with this pod they throw a Bunch of chemicals in and they try to Try to they're basically Chefs of a Certain kind I'm not sure if that's what They call it but that's how I think of It because it is all combined in a test Tube and you know the outcome and and It's it's mathematical once you know the Right environment and the right Chemistry that needs to get into this Container or the spot you know what the Outcome is there's no luck there anymore It's a pretty rigid established uh input Output system and it's all chemistry so You actually wear a lot of hats as one Of them original life chemist my PhD is In chemistry but I don't do original Live chemistry but you're interested in

Origin of Life yes absolutely so some of Your some of your best friends the Original life chemists just make sure That you have good chemist friends if You're interested in origin of Life yeah That's a hundred percent requirement Should be mandatory okay so chemistry uh So what else about this Machinery that We need to know chemically well uh Chemically I think that that's it you Have enzymes you have proteins the Enzymes are doing their thing they know How to chew energy using ATP or GTP they They know what to do on their in their Own way they do their enzymatic thing so It's not just the ribosome that is at The heart of the transition but there Are a lot of different proteins you're Looking about a hundred different Components that compose this Machinery Uh well let me ask kind of maybe it's a Ridiculous question but did the Chemistry Make this machine or did the machine Use chemistry to achieve a purpose So like Um I guess there's a lot of different Chemical possibilities on Earth Is is this much translation Machinery Just like Uh choosing picking and choosing Different Chemical reactions that it can use to

Achieve a purpose Uh or did the chemistry basically Like uh there's like a momentum like a Constraint to the thing that can only Build a certain kind of Machinery that's Basically is is chemistry fundamental or Is is it just emergent like how Important is chemistry to this whole Process you cannot have Chemistry Process without Chemistry what makes life interesting is That even if the chemistry isn't perfect Even if there are accidents along the Way if something binds to another Chemical in in a way it shouldn't Um there is resilience within the system That it can maybe not necessarily repair Itself but it moves on however in Perfect Mistakes can be handled that's where the Biology that's where the biology comes In but in terms of chemistry you Absolutely cannot have a transition Missionary without chemistry and so You're as I said there are four main Steps these are the core steps that are Conserved in all translation missionary And I should say all life has this Machine right Every cell everything on Earth on Earth Yeah yes when you think of this machine Do you think very specifically about the Kind of Machinery that we're talking

About or do you think more Philosophically a machine that converts Information into function it's I I Cannot separate Machinery fascinating Those five components that I listed are They coexist So for instance if we uh let's just Talking about the chemistry part Um We we know the certain Um rate constant all these proteins that Operate in this Machinery needs to Harbor in order to get the mechanism Going Right if you are bringing the the Information to the translation Missionary and you're the initiator of This computation system you need to have Uh you can only afford a certain range Of mistakes if you're too fast then the Next message cannot be delivered fast if You're too slow then you may stall the Process so there is definitely a Chemistry constant going on within the Machinery Um again it's not perfect far from it But they all have their own margin of Error that they can tolerate versus they Cannot otherwise they call that the System collapses so it's like a Jazz Ensemble the notes of the chemistry but You can be I love that you said Jazz It's definitely through it's a party and

It's like everybody's invited and and And they need to operate together all Right and and they um and what's really Cool about it I think or there are many Things that are very interesting about This thing but if you take if you remove It from the cell and put it in a Cell Free environment it works just fine Right so you can get cell free Translation systems uh put this Transition in a test tube and it is Doing its thing it doesn't need the rest Of the cell to translate information of Course you need to feed the information At least so far Um but because we are far from evolving A transition maybe not so far uh Evolving a translation in the lab or the Machinery that can process information As it generates it we have not done that Yet it's a pretty complicated Machinery It's hard for it to for those uh origin Of Life chemists to find a part that Generates because it's far more than Chemistry you need you need uh biology Obviously you need biochemistry you need To think as a I think a network systems Folk you need to think about computation You need to think about information and And that is not happening yet except we Are trying to bring this perspective but The more you understand how the Information systems work you cannot once You see it you cannot unsee it it's one

Of those things so but you can still bit Out and the chemistry happens yes and Chemistry can happen even with even if You strip some of the parts out it can You can get very minimal level of Information processing that does not Look anything like the translation that Cells relies on but that what chemists Showed from linear you can generate Information that arrives to a processing Center in the form of a linear polymer The informatic part of this system that I think sets it apart from computation And from metabolism comes in if you Think about the information itself right So we have four nucleotide letters that Compose DNA and they are processed in The translation in triplets So you have an in triplet codon Fragments so you have four times four Times four so you have 64 possible States that can be encoded By four letters in three positions All right so it's so amazing yeah it's So amazing there is only one code that Says start that's that there's only one And then there's two if not three that Says stop So that's that's that's what you work With but you can have 64 possible States But life only uses 20. amino acids so we Used six live users 64 possible States Minus four of the starts and stops to Code for 20 amino acids in different

Combinations That is really amazing if you think About there there are 500 different Amino acids life can choose right it's Narrowed it down to training we don't Know why a lot of people think about This genetic code is quite fascinating Right I mean it didn't do it for four Billion years I don't know we may wait For another four billion years but but You didn't have those amino acids in the Very beginning right like you don't know So it we would be fooling ourselves if We said we know exactly how many amino Acids existed early on but there's no Reason to think that it it wasn't the Same or similar yeah we don't we don't Have a good reason but But because roughly 20 out of 60 states Are used you're using one-third of your Possible states in the in your Information system so it this may seem Like a waste but informatically it's Important because it's abundant and it Is uh redundant right so so this code Degeneracy you see this in that's Implemented by this translation Missionary inside the cell So it means we can make errors right you Can make errors but the message will Still get through you you can speak Missing some letters to the information Can miss some parts but the message will Still get through so that's two-thirds

Of the not used States give gives you That robustness and resilience within This system so at the informatic level There's room for error there's probably Room for probably in all five Uh categories we're talking about There's probably room for air in the Computation there's probably room from Area there's yes exactly everywhere yeah Because because the the informatic Capacity is made possible together with The other Um components and not only that but also The the product yields A function no In this case enzyme are pretty right so So That's really amazing for me it is I Mean I mean in my head just so you know Because I'm a computer science AI person The the parallels between even like Language models that encode language Or now they're able to encode basically Any kind of thing including Um images and actions all in this kind Of way The the parallel in in terms of Informatic and uh computation Is just incredible actually Um I have a image maybe I can send you Can we pull it up now if you just do Genetic codon charts we can pull that Off yeah it's a very standard table So I can I can explain what why this is

So amazing so you're looking at um like This is life's alphabet right and so I Also want to make a very quick link now To your first question the Tree of Life Um when when we link when we try to Understand ancient languages right or The cultures of the or the cultures uh That use these extinct languages we Start with the modern languages right so We look at Um Indo-European Languages and and try to understand Certain words and make trees Um to understand you know this is what Uh Slavic word is for snow something Like snig now we jump to languages that Humans spoken humans talk history Exactly so we make trees to understand What is the original ancestor what did They use to say snow and if you have a Lot of cultures who use the word snow You can imagine that uh it was snowy That's why they needed that word it's The same thing for biology right if if They have some if we understand some Function about that enzyme we can Understand the environment that they Lived in it's it's the similar it's Similar in that sense so now you're Looking at the alphabet for of life in This case it's not 20 or 25 letters it's You have four letters so what is really Interesting that stands out to me when I Look at this on the outer shell you're

Looking at the 20 amino acids that's Composed life right the one the Methionine that you see that's the start So the start is always the same to me That is fascinating that all Life starts With the same starts there's no other Start code so you sent the uh AG you Know Aug to the cell that when that Information arrives the transition knows All right I gotta start function is Coming the following this is a chain of Information until the stop code arrives Which are highlighted in black squares So for people just listening we're Looking at a standard RNA color table Organizing a wheel there's an outer Shell and there's an inner shell all Used in the four letters that we're Talking about with that we can compose All of the amino acids then there's a Start and there's a stop and presumably You put together the the with these Letters you walk around the wheel to put Together the words the sentences that Yeah reverse the sentences and you to Again you get one start you get three There are three different ways to stop This one way to start it and for each Letter you have multiple options so you Say you have a code a the second code Can be another a and even if you mess That up you still can rescue yourself so You can get it for instance I'm looking At the lysine Decay you get an A and you

Get an A and then you get an A that Gives you the lysine right but if you Get an A and if you get an A then get a G you still get the license so there are Different combinations so even if There's an error we don't know if these Are selected because they were Earnest And somehow they got locked down we Don't know if there is a mechanism Behind this to or we we certainly don't Know this definitively But this is informatic uh part of this And notice that the colors in some Tables too the colors will be coded in a Way that um the the type of the Nucleotide can be similar chemically uh But the point is that you will still end Up with the same amino acids or Something similar to it even if you mess Up the code do we understand the Mechanism how natural selection Interplays with this resilience to error So which errors Result in the same Uh the output like the same function and Which don't Uh which actually results in a Dysfunction which are we understand to Some degree the how translation and the Rest of the cell work together Have an error at the translation level This is a really core level can impact Entire cells but we understand very Little about the evolutionary mechanisms

Behind the selection of the system it's Thought to be as one of the hardest Problems in biology and it is still the Dark Side of biology we even though it Is so essential So this is uh yeah you're looking at the Language of life so to speak and how it Can found ways rather to it to tolerate Its own mistakes so the entire Phylogenetic tree Can be like uh deconstructed with this Wheel of language because all the final Letters those are that's the 20 amino Acids that's our alphabet they are all Brought together with these bits of Information right so you when you look At the genes you're looking at those Four letters when you look at the Proteins you're looking at the 20 amino Acids uh which may be a little easier Way to track the information when we Create Um the tree so using this language we Can describe all life that's lived on Earth [Music] We are not that good at it yet right so In theory this is one way to look at Life on Earth if you're a biologist and You want to understand how life evolved Uh from a molecular perspective this Would be the way to do it and and this Is what nature narrowed its code down to So maybe think of nitrogen than we think

Of carbon when we think of sulfur it's All in this that the all these Nucleotides are built based on those Elements and this is fundamentally the Informatic perspective exactly that's That's the informatic perspective and It's important to emphasize that this is Not engineered by humans this is this Evolved by itself like right humans Didn't invent this just because we were Just describing we're trying to find Trying to describe the language of life It's it appears to be a highly optimized Chemical and information code Um it it may indicate that a great deal Of chemical Evolution and uh and and This may indicate that a lot of Selection pressure and darwinian Evolution happened with prior to the Rise of last Universal common ancestor Because this is uh almost a bridge that Connects the early cells to the last Universal common ancestor okay can you Describe what the heck you just said uh So this Mechanism evolved before the what Combination so there's the last Universal government so when we talk About the tree when we think about the Root if you I ideally uh included all The living information or all the Available information that comes from Living organisms on your tree then it on The root of your tree lies the last

Universal common ancestor Luca right why Last last Universal because the earlier Universe it also had trees but they all Died off we call it the last because it Is sort of the first one that we can Track Because we cannot we don't know what we Cannot track right so it's one there's One organism That started the whole thing it's more Like a I would think of it as more like A population a group of organisms I Tweeted this I want to know the accuracy Of my tweet all right Um sometimes early in the morning I I Tweet very pothead like things I said uh That we all evolved from one Common ancestor that was a single cell Organism 3.5 billion years ago uh Something like this How how true is that tweet do I need to Delete it no there's actually correct But I mean uh I I think of course There's a lot to say which is like we we Don't know exactly uh but what to what Degree is that the the single organism Aspect is that true Um versus multiple organisms no Totally honest yes please This is how we did like caveats the Tweets right so first of all it's not Um 3.5 is still a very conservative Estimate that's the first Direction uh I Would say it's 3.8 is probably safer to

Say at this point a bunch of people said It probably way before if you put an Approximately I'll take that I didn't I Just love the idea That I was once first of all as a single Organism I was once a cell well your Still is you're a group of cells no but I started from a single cell Me Lex you mean like you versus Luca are You relating to Luca right now Like your own development my own Development I started from a single cell It's like it like built up with stuff Okay that and then so that's a first Single biological and then from an Evolutionary perspective the Luca like I Start like my ancestors a single cell And then here I am sitting half asleep Tweeting Like I started from a single cell Evolved a ton of murder along the way Into the the this like brutal uh search For adaptation through the 3.5.8 billion so you you defy the code Of Douglas Adams you are proud of your Ancestors and you you get them over to Dinner and you invite them over to your Twitter yeah so and it's amazing that This intelligence to the degree you can Call it intelligence emerged to be able To tweet whatever the heck I want yes It's almost intelligence at the chemical Level and this is also probably one of The first chemically intelligent system

That evolved by itself in nature yeah You see you see that translation is in a Fundamentally like uh intelligent Mechanism in its own way and and again The if if we manage to figure out how to Drive life's evolution In it can if it can evolve uh a Sophisticated sort of informatic Um processing system like this you may Ask yourself what might chemical systems Be capable of independently doing under Different circumstances Yeah so like locally they're intelligent Locally they don't need the rest of the Shebang like they don't need the big They need so that that's that's a great Segue into what makes this biological Right the the hearts of the cellular Activities are translation you kill Translation you kill the cell yes you Not only the translation itself you kill The component that initiates that you Kill the cell you kill you remove the Component that elongates it you kill the Cell so there are many different ways to Disrupt this Machinery they all depart All the parts are important now it it Can vary across different organisms we See variation between bacteria versus Eukaryotes versus archaea right so it is Not the same same exact steps but it can Get more crowded as we get closer to Eukaryotes for instance but you are Still Computing about

Um 20 amino acids per second right this Is this is what you're generating every Second the single Machinery is doing 20 A second 20s 21 for bacteria I believe Eight four eukaryotes or nine 21 a Second I mean that's super inefficient Or super efficient depending on how you Think about it I think it's great I mean I can yeah but It's way slower than a computer Could generate it through simulation I I Think if you can show me a computer that Does this we are down here well this is The big this includes the five things Not just but I could show you a computer That's doing the informatic right like Yes you can show me that but you cannot Show me the one that has all for now for Now I will ask you about probably what Uh Alpha fold right uh I think the more We learn about and this is why early Life and origin is also very fascinating And applicable to many different Disciplines there's no way you see this The way we just described it unless you Think about early life and early Geochemistry and earliest emergent Systems but going going back to The biological components All of these attributes that we think About life or that we associate with Biology stems from translation and as Well as metabolism but I see metabolism as a way to keep

Translation going and translation keeps Metabolism going but transition is Arguably a bit more sophisticated Process for the reasons that I just Described so metabolism is a source of Energy for this translation process it's So it's a it's a way to process Materials and it is inherently Dynamic And it is flexible but it is not focused On rapid reputation as translation does So that's the main difference Translation is the kind of in a way just It repeats right so you have the Metabolism that can synthesize materials It creates or benefits from available Energy and again it's a dynamic system Um and then you have computation that it That is inherently repetitive right Needs to carry out repetitive processes Uh it and it does the tasks and it's it Implements an algorithm but it is not Dynamic so you see both of those Attributes in Translation combined it is Repetitive and it is dynamic and it also Processes this information so they are Fundamentally different I don't know if You can get Um the life if you don't find a way to Process the information around you In a repetitive Dynamic way yeah and Somehow that that's what got Um selected maybe not selected I don't Know if it was Um accidental but that that's what it

Seems to be conserved for four billion Years that that's what life established What's the connection between Translation and the self-replication Which seems to be a another weird thing That life just started doing wanting to Just replicate it I think when we truly Understand the answer to that question We may have just made ourselves live Right we I don't think we know quite how Translation Machinery as a whole fits Into equation because so we try to Understand Um ribosomes RNA how the linear Information is processed Um Or the genetic code wise this codons not Others why 20 not more not less and we Are sort of moving towards transition That's that's what we're working on Anyway uh to finally look at the Patterns in which this system operates Itself and if you understand that you're Really unlocking a very emergent Behavior Uh one of the things you didn't mention Is physical is there something to Mention about that component that's Interesting there's actually a paper uh Published in 2013 I want to say the First author zirnoff so they surveyed Computational [Music] Um engineered systems level computation

Energy consumption okay and they try to Understand whether the universe is using Its own or life is using its full Capacity of energy consumption and Whether Um if different planets in the universe Had life would the capacity would Increase or decrease it does life Operate at its energy maximum And uh and they think that it does that It actually operates at an efficiency That is far more above and beyond a Computational system how's that possible To determine at all that you tell me That's why I dropped the citation I I Found the citation it's quite an Interesting paper it's a bit you know It's a um It's a obviously you can only calculate And infer these things but that's a good Question to ask is the life that we see Here on Earth and life elsewhere in the Universe is it using the energy most Efficiently yeah yeah it seems to be Very efficient again if we compare to Computers it seems to be incredibly Efficient at using it I think they look At the like the theoretical Optimum for Electronic devices and then try to Understand where life falls on on this And life is certainly more efficient and That's ultimately the physical side how Well are you using for this entire Mechanism the energy available to to you

And so given given all the resilience to Errors and all that kind of stuff it Seems that it's close to its maximum yep And this this paper aside it does seem That life obviously that's the Constraint we have on earth right is the Amount of energy Yeah so that's one way to Define life Well The input is energy and the output is What I don't know Self-replicating Wait how okay let's go there how do you How do you personally Define life do you Have a do you have a favorite definition You try to sneak up on Um Is it possible I Define life On Earth I don't know it depends on what You are defining it for if you're Defining it for finding different life Forms then it probably needs to have Some quantification in it so that you Can Um Use it in in whatever the mission that You're operating to me like it's not Binary it's uh this is like a seven out Of ten I don't know I I don't I don't think That defining is that essential I think It's a good exercise but I'm not sure if The if we need to agree Um a universally defined way of

Understanding life uh because the Definition itself seems to be ever Evolving anyway right we have the NASA's Definition it's it says It has its uh minuses and pluses but it Seems to be doing its job well what what Are the different if there is a line and It's impossible or unproductive to Define that line nevertheless we know it When we see it Is one definition that the Supreme Court Likes And that's a Kind of an important thing to um To think about when we look about when We look at life on other planets So How do we try to identify if a thing is Living when we go to Mars when we go to Uh the different moons in our solar System we would go outside our solar System to look for Life yeah on other Planets it's unlikely to be a sort of a Smoking Gun event right it's not going To be hey I found this you don't think So I don't think so unless you find an Elephant on some exoplanet then I can Say yeah that's there's life here no but Is there a dynamic nature to the thing Like uh it moves It has a membrane that looks like There's stuff inside it doesn't need to Move right I mean like look at plants I Mean they they grow but there are plants

That or can be also pretty dormant and Arguably they are the most they do Everything that is one of my Favorite professors once said that the Plant does everything that the giraffe Does without moving so the movement is Not a Zen statement necessarily but at a Certain time scale the the plant does Move it just moves slower yes it moves Pretty I would I would say that and it's Hard to quantify this or even measure it But it is a life is definitely the Chemistry finding Solutions right so it Is chemistry exploring itself But and and maintaining this exploration For billions of years so okay so a Planet Is a bunch of chemistry And then you run it and say all right Figure out what uh what cool stuff you Can come up with that's essentially what Life is given a chemistry what is the Cool stuff I can come up with if that's That chemistry or the solutions that It's Embarks upon are maintained in a form of Memory Right so it's this you you don't just Need to have the Uh explore exploring chemical space but You need to also maintain a memory of Some of those solutions for over long Periods of time so that's the memory Component

Makes it more living to me because Chemistry can always sample right so Chemistry is chemistry but are you just Constantly sampling or are you building On your former Solutions and then Maintaining a memory of those Solutions Over billions of years or at least That's what happened here chemistry Can't build life if it's always living In the moment the physicists would be Very upset with you okay So memory could be A fundamental I mean life is not just I Mean life is obviously the chemistry and Physics uh leading to biology so this is Not a disciplinary Problem of one discipline trying playing Other discipline it's that but what what You need to have is definitely a big Chemistry is everywhere right I Tend to think you can be a chemist you Can study chemistry you can study Physics you can study geology anywhere In the universe but this is the only Place you can study biology this is the Only place to be a biologist that's it Yeah so so definitely something very Fundamental happened here and you cannot Take biology out of the equation if you Want to understand how that vast Chemistry space how that General Sequence space got narrowed down to what Was what is available or what is used by Life you need to understand the rules of

Selection and that's when Evolution and Biology comes into so the rules of Natural selection operate to you on the Level of biology Rules I don't know if there are any Rules like that would be fascinating to Find in terms of the biology's rules That's a very interesting and Um it's a very fascinating area of study Now and probably we will hear more about That the decades to come but if you want To go from the the broad to specific you Need to understand the rules of Selection and that is going to come from Understanding biology yes Well actually let me ask you about Selection you have a paper uh on Evolutionary stalling Where you describe that evolution is not Good at multitasking Or like uh in uh populations that have Evolved quickly I mean it's a very Specific thing but there could be a Generalizable fundamental thing to this That evolution is not able to improve Multiple modules simultaneously I guess The question is Um what part of the organism does Evolution quote unquote focus on to Improve yeah that was the driving Question we meddled with the part where You shouldn't be messing up with Translation this is the shooter should Not you shouldn't as I said there are

Many ways to break it and all life needs It so one of the things your favorite Things to do is to break life to see What happens It's yeah because that's how kids learn Right so you have to break something and You see how it will then you do over and Over again to see if it will fix itself In the same ways yeah so that's it's our I don't know it's the most fundamental Properties of our ourselves as human Beings so if we shouldn't break Translation then we should try to break It yes to see how it will repair so Which part you break I broke elongation So what's the role of elongation in this Process so the we we have uh four steps Of the translations initiate elongate so To elongate the chain of the the Information chain that you're now Creating the peptide chain uh or let's Say broadly polymer chain Um and there's a termination step and There's the recycling so all of these Com steps are carried out by proteins That are also named after these steps Initiation is the initiation Factor Protein elongation is the elongated Protein Um we Um Broke elongation So the cell the starting codon could Still arrive to where it's supposed to

Go but the following information Couldn't get carried out because we Replaced elongation with uh its own Ancestral version so we inserted roughly A 700 million year old elongation Factor Protein After removing the modern Gene so we Made this ancient modern hybrid Organism and that essentially creates in Some way the ancient version of that Organism I wouldn't say so it's the it's a it's A it's organism it's not necessary Because you the rest of this cell the Rest of the Uh genome is still modern and that goes Back to the difference between Jurassic Park there are many differences Obviously given that this is not fiction We're doing it but also Um we are not necessarily I think in Jurassic Park they are taking and Ancients or they find an ancient Organism and then put in modern Gene Inside the ancient organism in our case We are still working with what we got But putting an ancestral DNA inside the Modern organisms you're like taking a New car and putting an old engine into It in a way yeah yes seeing what happens Yes but in our case it's more like a Transformer than just a regular car it Is doing things it's yeah so it's a more Complicated organism than just the car

Yeah Uh I got it so what is that what does That teach you We Sell respond to Perturbation Didn't just put the ancient DNA we Inserted Um we sampled DNA from currently Existing organisms so the cousins of This microbe and and collected DNA Sequences from the cousins as well so Both ancestor and the current cousin DNA So to speak and engineered all of these Things to the modern bacteria and Generated a collection of microbes that Either have the ancient component or the Variants Elongator component that still alive Today but coming from a different part Of the tree so you broke elongation Was that something you did as part of The paper on evolutionary stalling to Try to figure out How Evolution figures out what to try to Improve did that help yes because we Were not supposed to Mess with different That's exactly what we did And we Altered elongation by changing it with Different versions of elongation that Are either coming from Species that still are around today you

Can imagine them as sitting on the tips Of the Tree near Branch for our Branch To compare to the organism that we're Working with cousins distant cousins As well as the ancestors of the bacteria That we are now modifying how much Different uh variation is there in that Elongation step like what are the Different flavors of elongation that's a Very good question so Mechanistically or mechanically it's the Same it's it's very conserved so all Life elongates the same way you are it's Nothing but a shuttle you just carry in Um the chemical with you The bits to the heart of the machine is That essentially doing like a copy paste Operation it has its tail that's Attached to the the code Which is then carried biochemically to The linear chain to the core of ribosome And the it sits on there it's released And the peptides click uh the the codes Rather click once that chemistry that is At the tail end occurs the protein Leaves the Um Center so you can imagine it's like It's hops in there and hops out and when It pops and UPS out it leaves the Information behind that's all it does is Bring the information get out of there And it's all triggered by biophysics Biochemistry because of the way the Enzyme chews energy in this case GTP how

The phosphor leaves the center the kicks That gives the additional kick to the Enzyme to leave the center so what which Parts are different than where's the Flavors of different flavors usually the Parts that matter don't change over time Nature conserves the sites of these Proteins that are important for it is Job If there's a difference then we we want To know especially if if there's a Difference between two cousins and in we Look at the sites that interact with the Most important parts of this Machinery If we see any difference we tend to Mutate or we revert we engineer that Part we alter that part because it gives Us a clue that there must be something Interesting going on here or not okay so That's not the the fundamental part of The Machinery but it's some flavorful Characteristic that you can play with so Now you strip the Machinery down to its Parts and now you're looking at the Parts of the parts okay and um it Depends uh where you're looking and how You're looking and what you're looking At but usually we see up to 70 percent Level uh conserved identity across all Modern versions when you travel back in Time the identity decreases so Elongation likely existed we have good Reason to think that it existed at the Dawn of life so you're looking at a 3.8

Billion year old mechanism And when we look at the ancestors that We resurrect we see about 40 identity so The identity definitely decreases as you Go back in time but still 60 percent Shared information over 4 billion year Is pretty good is that just for Elongation for the entire translation Depends on what you do so for initiation We've also recently published this it's A different story uh but overall you see High level of identity that that is kept Intact especially if the component is Essential for life okay so 40 and 60 70 You said but like from Generations Generation how does evolution and Presumably that's what that paper is Looking at is the parts of the parts So how does it uh able to say like mess With the parts and try to come up with a Cooler improved version of the organism Yeah so let me describe to you what we Did in that experiment we took a Different we took bacteria we perturbed The elongation in all of these with Different variants so we had an initial Set of Um a group of bacteria that we had we Then subjected these bacteria to Evolution in the lab all right so we First of all we knew we broke it because Upon engineering we measured what's Going on with the cell it's not growing As well they are not healthy we can see

It with our eyes we can measure it that If they were generating an offspring Every 20 minutes now it is 40 minutes Right so we really messed them up they Don't want to work with this thing they Don't want each other but they need each Other so we created that situation for Them Which is good because we want to see how Uh we wanted to see how they will uh Cooperate with each other uh to fix this Problem because we know that that's not The condition that they want to live in Especially when they know what they can Do So with that we subjected these Organisms to evolution in the lab that's Uh We refer to this as experimental Evolution we subject bacteria to Different selection pressure Project them through bottlenecks every Day we randomly collect a handful of Bacteria from the flask give them put Them in a new Fresh environment with Fresh food keep them in this environment For 24 hours until they reach a more Doormat State and then we Subject introduce them to an even Environment so we repeated this for About it Um I will say 150 days so every day not Non-stop we repeated this experiment Some kind of uh how much how many

Different kinds of environments are There we kept the environments into the Same and because we had different Initial conditions we kept the Environment constant same temperature Same food same source of carbon but we Created replicates for each Lineage so in some ways we created our Own fossil record in the lab by evolving And generating these flasks and every Gen every step of the way we all saw Froze these cells and took stocks of Them in the in the cryo freezer how long Does it take to go from one generation To the next one bacteria if you uh for E Coli it's usually 20 minutes Okay great so that's the experiment That's the experiment and and you're You're always messing it with it in the Same way for the initial it's the it's The same way so we we introduced Variation at elongation level because So because we um perturbed it with Different elongations we found that if We introduce a different protein that is Very different the cells don't like that Right so if the distance is larger the Consequences also large meaning that you Hit them harder if you introduce a Variant that is really foreign to them That's really distant I mean if in our Case it was the ancestor they really did Not like the ancestor but they were okay With their nearest cousin

Right okay great so you did vary in the Distance we varied it to this double Evolutionary distance and then we kept The experiment called experimental Conditions the same and we propagated These populations every day for 150 days And we collected Um bacteria at every step of the way and Looked at the sequence we wanted to Understand what sort of changes may have Happened in the genome to respond to the Variation that we've introduced so what Kind of changes would you be seeing Depending on the evolutionary distance Of the thing you shoved into it exactly So we knew where we punched right we Punched throughout the heart right we Punched the translation so we expected Is it going to be is a translation Are we going to see a change that will Translation respond to this by fixing Itself right away or will it be Um another outside of translation Something completely different a Different module because translation Itself is a module or would it be within Elongation it really sub protein level Thing so we uh had a strategy to Identify uh the mutational pathways by Categorizing what we expected to find or Where Okay so why does it not do multitasking Why is it there wasn't improving Multiple things why simultaneously it

Turned out that what we observed in General is that first of all the Hardware V hit the cells the more likely They were to respond by changes right at Where we Hit it when you say hit it you mean like Change the something about looking over This hitting because we are Because there's breaking the cell right I mean not breaking enough to kill it But we still the They're not doing their job well so the The bigger the evolutionary distance of The thing you put in there the the the The harder the hit is how you think About it the bigger the hammer bigger The hammer exactly you hit it with okay If that's what it turned out to be Because that's what the data told us That if we Um if the variation is higher than the Consequences will also be higher in the Sense that the cells will not grow as Healthy compared to a variance that is Coming from a near uh or a variance that Is coming from a near revolutionary is It is it wrong to think of this kind of Hitting as a um akin to a mutation Oh no what are we supposed to learn from This hitting like how how the thing Evolves after it's being hit in this way What does that teach us because we Um It is so conserved and so essential it

Is not even clear whether we can remove Some of the parts or whether the entire Translation will need all of the same Parts in the same efficiency we don't Understand the rules of this machinery So the first thing we ought to Understand is that how what is the Resilience what are we really talking About here when we talk about you cannot Mess with this translation is this true Because it is so conserved and so Similar and functions in the most Conserved ways that was the first thing That we want to understand did you learn Anything interesting about the Resilience at the chemical physical Informatic computation no I I wouldn't Say that I think in the biological level Yes because we found that the different Modules started responding to the Changes that we've introduced and that We could never recover the translation As effectively as it used to be so that It never reached to it is Um optimality that it was always Sub-optimal it needed to say one more Mutation perhaps to get there it Accumulated four mutations that was we Did a lot of experiments to understand This of course it was accumulating Mutations it was getting better at its Task maybe it needed a couple other Mutations to get really good at it but Somehow those limitations never happened

And before those mutations happened we Saw another module Um emerging through mutations and Getting better at its own different Tasks that is not translation you can Think of cell as a web of networks right When we think of this as multiple almost Airports that are proteins that are more Central hubs versus there are proteins That maybe are not as important if you Introduce a problem in the most Populated Hub you're gonna mess up the Traffic system more drastically and and That's what we were messing with in in The biological terms as well so when we Say module like translation would be one Of the most translation would be one so You're basically saying when you mess With translation The organism would choose to either try To fix that module or another module Depending exactly but it wouldn't do Multiple mods you wouldn't do multiple Modules it focused on one module at a Time and right before that module maybe Reached to its own maximum it's stalled Its optimality at a certain degree so You never get to a degree that is more Optimal than you can achieve even though Perhaps another mutation could get you There since you messed with the Translation From a sort of optimal perspective Wouldn't it make sense for the cell to

Try to start fixing the translation not There's exactly Exactly what we thought and it didn't it Was not the case for all the broken Translation missionaries for instance if The variant was coming from a near Ancestor that didn't happen it was Almost cruising around trying different Modules and sort of living its best life Still without because there is no real Urgency in the system to fix the most Important problem and there's also not a Direction You know maybe to you it's obvious That's the problem but to the cell maybe You're the problem I'm living like you Said my best life like we don't I mean I Guess that's the thing about evolution Is we don't know what the right Direction to yeah it's almost like you Can imagine that you have this mess see Closet and um you know Happens to be an accurate representation Of my life so if you can't you you take A look at it and you see all the Sweaters or you know jeans or all over The place and then you look at a drawer That has sucks coming out of it and You'd think that's the most important One I'm just gonna fix that one yeah and Then you fix that one and then you think You will get to the other one but you Don't because you just fix the most Important one that is the whatever that

Was getting into your way that's what Really what evolution is it's quite lazy It fixes a problem that seems to be the Most immediate and it doesn't go beyond What it really needs to it seems like at Least for our experimental setup that Was the case uh especially for rapidly Evolving systems so like there's the Environment they're operating in pretty Constrained like is there a urgency I Would think I would say that we Definitely constrained the environment It's definitely removed from their Natural Setup we are not evolving them in our Guts it's a very homogeneous system very Controlled controlled temperature Controlled food controlled carbon so Just looking at that let me ask the the Romantic question uh how did Evolution Create so much beautiful complex variety On Earth Like from that you're saying that we're Talking about improving different Modules but if we step back and look at The entirety of the tree of the Different organisms that created all Throughout history the the stuff that's Fun to you with the the first few Billion and the the stuff that's fun to Me when I watch on YouTube which is like The the line versus gorilla fights and So on uh but the whole thing is fun so With all that beautiful variety from the

Predator and the prey uh from the Self-replicating bacteria and all that Kind of stuff how to do it how is a very Difficult question especially when we Don't understand Um the past with Clarity at all I can Tell you that there seems to be very Critical innovations that happened Throughout the history of life that are Each themselves Very sophisticated singularities that Emerged once and then they set the tone One of which is emergence of translation It seems like it happened once it had to Happen once seems like that's all it Took 3.8 billionaire maybe older clearly Subjected to a lot of chemical Evolution Even prior to the last Universal common Ancestor and then you jump and you see Um emergence of Cyanobacteria That's undeniably change the course of Those planets In the subsequent aerobic Photosynthesis that life learned How to utilize what's available in the Environment in the most profound way And then you move forward you see the Emergence of eukaryotes to the Endosymbiosis also another singular Events and then you move forward and Then comes the plants so these are I Counted I think six different things

That seems to have happened just once And the singularity events in the History of evolution of life on Earth so What's really fascinating here is that There seems to be two different courses The time course Evolution or is Operating at the molecular level right We're talking about Seconds we're talking about mutations That happen every second we're talking About selection that's also happening Under a minute right so that is a very Fast process the fact that I can evolve Bacteria in a lab and I say I almost Complainingly oh my goodness it took me 150 days I mean that's pretty rapid to For for a change to be seen But then the big changes and the ones That I'm talking really big innovations That increased that cause to an increase Of oxygen on this planet or even its own Mere presence are due to these molecular Innovations Seems to only happen a handful of times Over billions of years of time scale let Me ask you this question having to do With my half a sleep tweet So saying that we all originate from one Common ancestor Um that's just one of them miraculous Things About life on Earth of course you could Say there's multiple common ancestors in The beginning multiple organisms and so

On but the other stuff that you're Talking about is these singular events These leaps of invention throughout Evolution in history Now there's a bunch of people who were Commenting A bit surprising to me who were Basically skeptical of this idea the Idea of well I would say Evolution Honestly the process of evolution but When you just actually focus in on like Holy crap Um Eukaryotes were invented holy crap Photosynthesis was invented like those Are incredible inventions and also we Can go to Homo sapiens think Intelligence like where did that come From it's it did these Mysteries I think Where that skeptical comments are coming From were also just a general skepticism Of science I think from the pandemic people may be A failure of Institutions and so on they Um There have been a growing distrust of Science and it's not so so much that It's anti-evolution it's it's more of a Stepping back and saying wait a minute Maybe scientists don't have it all Figured out and I think Um to Steel man that case is almost a Step back and to realize there's so much Mystery to each of these leaps right so

It makes you wonder is there something That in 100 200 years we'll figure out That we totally don't understand yet Like some you know there's I talked to a Bunch of people about another mystery Which is consciousness right and there's People called pan psychists who believe Consciousness is one of the fundamental Laws of the universe so there could be Um you know like we have laws of physics That could be something that's like a Consciousness field or something that Permeates all matter and so like there Might be uh it's kind of like Newtonian Physics versus general relativity like We have a good understanding of how Things happen but we need another layer Of understanding to fill in the gaps of The mysteries of it all and That sort of is a sobering reality that Maybe there is something we really Deeply don't understand do you have a Sense of where the biggest mysteries Here are is it the origin of life itself Is it the leaps That we're talking about so you you see The beauty you're fascinated about the Translation mechanism What are the Deep Mysteries there to you We are nothing but chemical systems Capable of Formulating or answering questions about Our own existence We humans or all of life you think

Humans humans are uh I mean the fact That we can we even have this Conversation about Our Place in the universe is is That is to our knowledge is quite Specific to our own chemical species But Yeah it's kind of wild we're we're uh Introspecting on our evolutionary History and we're just a couple of Organisms Yes I would like another organism Listening to this and like they're mind Blown There's like three organisms two of them Talking and the third one's like holy [ __ ] Life or or even contemplating about our Own place in the universe if at the end Of this would come down to appreciating Uh or even before appreciating really Truly comprehending what it is that we Got here Um that to me is a huge gain because There's no single question in biology I Think that will give that The that would deliver that magnitude of That message and understanding but Understanding how life here started at First place if it we truly comprehend That we this is not a concept that is Well thought in schools We ask students to memorize these

Concepts maybe if they are lucky they Learned RNA world Chicken and egg problem Etc that's the extent to which that God May be their biology teacher was Personally interested in the subject Matter if they're lucky and you know the Saying that the the Uh brain brains are Evenly distributed uh across any metric You can imagine but opportunities are Not So if people aren't understanding the Importance of this is because that's a Lack of opportunity right there that's Was skipped through The Proper Education and Training then the Delivery of my Science Matters or how science actually Works yeah but how do you even begin to Uh I seriously think about the origin of Life I mean Every problem Of existence of life Has its time so I don't know if it's Time to understand Consciousness yet we Might be a hundred years away from that The origin of life I don't know if it's Time for us to understand that yet maybe We need to solve so many more problems Along the way and so it's not the

Competition of problems right so there Are all kinds of problems and it takes a Lot of people to make the world so you Will always have some interesting brain In going after an interesting problem to Their own the issue here is that we we Need to first of all understand that we What we have going on on this planet is Pretty good Good planets are hard to find If we are alone in the universe that's That's huge We need to take care of what we got here And we are incredibly vulnerable to the Changes that our own species also helped Create on antibiosphere at the ecosystem Level we take it for granted we take What we created for granted because of The fact that we think we are some sort Of ultimate endpoint the most Sophisticated amazing thing that nature Could generate I think understanding and not even Understanding but asking these questions Of where did this even come from how did This even begin and Attempting to understand that using Chemistry and physics and biology and Because we can That's The Ultimate Gift we can give Back to the entire species on this Planet Yeah I mean it's humbling it's humbling To realize the the complexity of this

Whole mechanism it certainly puts humans In their proper perspective that we're Not Um just because we have brains and Brains are intelligent doesn't mean We're the most intelligent thing because Ultimately the the whole mechanism of Nature seems to be orders and magnesium More intelligent all all of it like We're we're a bunch we're like a Hierarchy of organisms that have a History of several billion years and That all somehow came together to make a Human and there'll be life after us Just as it was life before us and Something that comes after will be Perhaps even more fascinating Yeah I think when you understand the Magnitude of what happened here there is There is no room for arrogance it should Overwhelm you and humiliate it's pretty Humiliating yeah like you know it's it's It's quite amazing what what what was What happened here and there is no other Discipline that will Deliver that but exploring our own Origins and looking at Life as a more Planetary system phenomena rather than One single species at a time a Collective look Uh you mentioned this question in your Ted Talk is The two possibilities Of the universe being full of life

And the universe being empty and we're The only life in the universe How do you feel about both options Just actually you as a single chemical Organism introspecting about its Existence in this world it's having a Planet flow of life is interesting Because there are we talked about Life being all about chemistry exploring Solutions and having Solutions in front Of you is is great it's beneficial right Solutions being different organisms like Other humans you see them as a solution To a chemistry problem different Different yeah that's an interesting Solution that's not next time we're in Austin so there's a bunch of weirdos Every time I see a weirdo I'll be like Oh that's an interesting solution to This chemistry problem Now you think like an origin of Lifestyle but it's funny that that one Worked out let's see where else it goes But having just emptiness and Unpredictability of Uncovering a novel solution can also Have its own benefits and and we should Uh Be open to What other Solutions might be out there And exploring those Solutions okay Different chemistry problems so that's Where you see you see the other planets Out there as different chemistry

Problems to their own local environment Yes so how many chemistry problems Have solutions that are lifelike to you Out there in the universe Wide open palette if you think about it I don't quite know it's the we know the The chemistry is chemistry I don't think The chemistry will be different Elsewhere but again what is selected by Chemistry will be determined by the Environment most likely see I think There is a life Everywhere out there So there's a guy named Nick Lane Whose gut and it's interesting to me I Wonder what you think about it his gut Is there's life everywhere out there but It stops at like the bacteria stage so He says that you you eukaryotes Is like the biggest invention and the Hardest one I wonder if he thinks that's An accidental outcome if he thinks That's inevitable I wonder what that Means but it's it's very it's a likely Possibility that the uh bacterial or Microbial life is definitely more Attainable Um so that that's a weird world where Our entire galaxy just says but our Bacteria everywhere so you know if you Don't like microbes you aren't on the Wrong planet And viruses I don't know which one is More of but they're they're both and

Most of them are like productive they're Fascinating they do everything for us Like bankruptcy on the wrong planet Uh you're full of good lines okay right Right I just can't there's like an Imperative to the whole thing to me the Origin Is the hard question but once it gets Going I just don't see them wait it Seems like it's constantly creating more Intelligent things More Fascinating complex things they're able To solve that's a video that's a very Interesting like that's I I definitely Agree that the initial steps may be the Ultimate determinants that once it's you Cannot stop it once it starts it's Possible Right and um I just have never on Earth Maybe but maybe I just whenever I see life it seems to Flourish Everywhere It the thing is I don't the only thing I Haven't seen is the start of it Exactly but that and how are we gonna Understand that if we don't the origin Of life science I mean that's the and And the question here isn't exactly our Ability to recapitulate everything that Happened in the exact way that it Happened right this is about what can Happen rather than and or maybe how you

Think it is possible to study the origin Of language using English So Like there's a very particular chemistry Here there's a particular set of Assumptions understanding about what Life is what everything is our Perception of reality is very Specifically constructed through the Evolutionary process I wonder if it's Possible to get to some first principles Deep understanding of How life originates in such a way that You can actually construct it on other Planets I ultimately it feels like if You're doing it in the lab on Earth You're always going to be using some Aspect of the life that's already here So That's what I sort of talked about in my Talk as well And um everyone should go Watch the TED Talks very good the Annoying thing to me about TED Talks I Guess this by Design is they're too Short it's like come on And did you know that there's no Prompter involved There's no wait there is or there isn't Yeah you have to memorize stuff yeah It's a Editor who probably is watching this too David bielo it was very very helpful but I would say I like this podcast it's a

Very professional organization I respect That Medium uh yeah anyway the in the in The talk about yeah life Life creating life so it's a likely Scenario that once we understand how Life Is a chemical system is is capable of Formulating its own expression And generating a memory and manages its Existence on a planetary body for Billions of years Once we understand What conditions gave rise to that We may be very likely to understand Whether a different planet also be Likely to instigate its own chemical Revolution if it were It was provided by through some missing Ingredients so you can think of it as a Sanding fertilizer to a different Planets that is missing its own chemical Composition or lacking or that it needs More of what it has The difference between making that Planet Earth like which was this is this Is not what that's about we're not Talking about terraforming or if you're Not talking about turning that planet Into Earth-like system we are talking About first understanding that planet Studying its chemistry studying its its Properties well enough to understand Whether it is close so it is on chemical Revolution and maybe giving it that

Extra nudge So this is obviously a pretty big Speculation and suggestion and it's a Very interesting proposition because This is a yes or no question right this Is this is the ultimate would you rather It's it's the and I think it says a lot About Um the perception of the person who is Asking this question that if the answer Is no no no absolutely not that's not Something we want to do I wanna know why That is the case so just to be clear What we're talking about is looking at The chemical cocktail of a particular Planet Yeah and having like tasting it And seeing uh seeing what's missing so Having a very systematic rigorous Scientific process of understanding what Is missing Not what is missing in terms of to make It Earth-like but what is missing in Order to be sufficiently uh have the Spark or the capacity of the spark to Launch the uh Evolution Revolution The evolutionary process exactly so and Then the question is do we want to then Complete the cocktail the proposition is To also make us think that we will Likely have this capacity at some point Especially when we understand Origin of life better and better Right so we will be asking ourselves

This question I guess I wanted to bring This to Daylight a little bit because uh Maybe in 10 20 years maybe more so you Wanted to ask the ethical question Should we Of basically start life Elsewhere on another planet or enable The the chemicals uh the chemical Capacity of that planet that it may one Day itself get there okay so for me the Answer is yes So if you were to try to argue against My yes what would you say why not what's The worst that could happen If we seed another planet with life what Are the things we should think about is Your main concern a chemical biological One or is it an ethical one what do you Think about well the worst thing that Can happen is that it wouldn't work Right so that it's not a The likely it's not likely that any Attempt like this would work that's Probably because how do you so you gotta Be very you know you have to have an Understanding that I don't think we have Just yet I see because if it doesn't Work then we could try again right To me The worst case the thing I would be Worried about is we create life I mean The same stuff I worry about like with Plants are Is things that might have a conscious

Experience and then The the dark aspect of life is life is Increasingly complex life Maybe I'm anthropomorphizing but it Seems to have the capacity to suffer huh And so we're creating something It's like when you have children you put Creatures into this world That will suffer can suffer and may Suffer depending on how you view life May likely suffer and so now you carry This responsibility for doing your best To alleviate any suffering they might go Through and that that perhaps that's uh Romanticizing this notion of life Perhaps bacteria are not capable of Suffering but perhaps it'll create more Complex life forms that Would be able to suffer And that feels like a responsibility as Well of course other people would be Concerned the more obvious concern is Like well you just created a life form How do you know it's not going to be a Super deadly virus that somehow is able To hurt humans yeah my my concern is More I feel like that's a solvable Problem the problem of Creating conscious beings that are able To suffer that's a tricky one yeah I can See why because Because it goes back to again with First of all Um

Do we have a responsibility to Propagate more of this chemistry that we Have on this planet elsewhere Given that we know ultimately we will be Vanished By the I mean entire planet And if this is in fact a very rare Chemical events that happens because all The Right circumstances came together and we Were the lucky one Do we have A responsibility to sponsor it this is a If if we were to back up sponsor I like It let's go where to put it yeah if you Try to back up remnants of our Civilization right so we've got a Potentially Creates conditions on different planets So that humans can survive given that we Know or we want to just just for the Sake of Growing yeah propagating uh becoming Multiple terrorist species exactly but What really is at stake here I think It's actually or what is really more Interesting is what we don't see which Is the again that the chemical behavior That enabled everything at first place That's different than Sending potato crops or engineering Bacteria to live on a different planet That's very different You're really good stripping it down to

What is what it what is possible at the Chemical level so even if you are Instigating the con chemistry on Different planets you are letting that Very planet to do its thing you're not Necessarily contaminating this planet With different chemistry because the Idea behind us at this the way I would I Thought about is that you understand That planet you understand the Conditions you understand the chemistry Of the planet really well before Choosing the planet as a candidate at First place And then it's not about sending a Missing ingredient per se but again just Sending more of what it already has This that would be respecting that Planet's condition to so I'm not Suggesting any occupation I'm not Suggesting any colonization I'm not Suggesting any like let's just strip Everything and make everything Earth-like That's not what I'm saying it's more About empowering that place What you are saying is is likely to be The motivator behind all this that's not Because I see suffering I see pain it's It's very interesting I think this is a Question that really reveals about a lot About the person who's answering it well Okay so the pushback on my Pushback

If I so I'm deeply troubled by suffering Then I should be probably paralyzed About the history of life on Earth And Um you know there's can you elaborate What do you mean most of Life who's ever Lived Suffered in ways that are almost Unimaginable to me you mean um like You're our own species our own species And before and animals living today and We're not even talking about factory Farms Uh were just uh animals living in Extreme poverty in the jungle You don't people think like in a natural Environment animals live in a happy Place no it's a brutal place of Desperately trying to survive of Desperately trying to look for food and It's just like all of that life that's Just mammals and we understand mammals But like throughout like trillions of Organisms that led up to those mammals And the organisms living everywhere like Even bacteria there's death everywhere So maybe this idea of death this idea of Suffering Is actually this thing that we see as a Bug Is actually a feature I don't think suffering is a linear Property like that with life And I may be with Nick Lane on this one

That the likeliness of anything similar To what we got here evolving in another Planetary body I think is quite low Where would you say is the the biggest Unlikely thing do you mean humans or do You mean even multicellular organisms Probably multicellular multicellularity It's uh but I I understand the Both sides of the Equation right in in one level I can see That we may not have any other choice But to Back up this chemistry somewhere else Yeah so you would be saving it's the Ultimate saving or the record our own Record it's not about you know yes let's Also save Um beetles and all the amazing songs but This would be the ultimate repository of Life But it's I can also see your point of View For sure it's really interesting so like Don't see the plan with the missing Ingredient try to understand what the Ingredients it has It possible to construct life Uh for me for uh from a computer person It just feels like something that could Be solved computationally we can learn From the mistakes that we've done here And Aspire not to repeat them It is possible we do amazing things as

Humans there's a lot of suffering but There's also a lot of beauty and and we We could choose What we want to be or what we want to See right so the these attempts don't Need not to come from not to come from a Place of fear but it can be ultimately Can come from a piece of hope and love I Think we're just very recently figuring Out stuff like we've even just a century Ago we're doing atrocities that uh Weren't seen as atrocities at the time I Mean I think we're learning very quickly of What is right and wrong yes and I work With a lot of maybe because I'm at the University I get to teach young people Every day Even at a time of four year or three few Years you see Yeah Generational difference already Unfolding in front of you and maybe That's why I see hope because I think What we get to interact with in Classrooms every year is getting better They are aware of issues in a way that I Sure wasn't at their age some levels I Was but in many levels I didn't think About I I wasn't concerned of the Problems well they maybe have to be Concerned because it's hitting the Reality he's hitting them hard but Younger people are not afraid of these

Things an 18 year old can face these Brutal facts about the planet in ways That I don't think any other generation Before them did yeah it's super cool and And like the uh You know there's all these cool Technologies that Aid in the process Of a human being Being able to see the truth the deeper Deeper levels like you know Wikipedia And just the internet in general is Enabling education a level that was Unimaginable before the internet yes and I think space exploration Even contemplating about these Possibilities ultimately and I will Emphasize this again should make us Think about our own place in the Universe if we are alone that is quite Fascinating and we definitely have a Responsibility to guard what we got Better and protect it better and don't Take it for granted if we are not the Only one that's also a lot of Responsibility to understand What else is out there so either Proposition is famously being told is Fascinating but Is a as a scientist I think And I think that's the general Behavior Maybe not my fellow scientists listening To this can correct me if they aren't Liked but you need to have a level of Optimism and and hope it that's

Something you know that things are work Worth working for worth dreaming worth Imagining and we cannot just have fear Of suffering or fear of pain Stopping us from doing marvelous things I've talked to quite a few people in my Life who've done who've gotten a lot of [ __ ] done have helped a lot of people And I don't know a single one of them Who's not an optimist Now there's a place for critics and Cynicism in this world but in terms of Actually building things and creating Things in this world that help a lot of People Um I think optimism is a is a Requirement is it precondition in almost All cases in my Limited Humble Human Experience but I tend to When I look out there think that aliens Are everywhere I think there's To me I have a humility about I tend to See us humans as being very limited Cognitively Like there's so many things we don't Understand I think eventually we'll understand of Course we don't know this but my gut Says Will understand that alien signals and Life has been all around us And we're too dumb to see it Like whatever life is whatever the life Force is whatever Consciousness is

Whatever intelligence whatever the the Mechanism That led to the origin of life on Earth Was everywhere Oh we're just too dumb to see it it's in The physics it's somewhere we'll find it Somewhere in the physics Also being a scientist That we know that we never know for sure And for the Outsiders perhaps that may be a very Um strange way of living Especially when your pursue is about Creating knowledge and that you'll know That what you created can also be and Hopefully will be Disproven so that another level will Rise Um and and I think we've seen that the This lack of maybe connection between The approach to science or knowledge Versus uh folks who are maybe not Thinking about these problems every day That we are okay with being wrong that's In fact we know that that's the only way To push the limits of knowledge How do you think life originated on Earth we've talked about this a bit do You have a gut feeling about First of all actually even to step back Do you think because you were like Flirting with this idea the translation Mechanism came before life I think that you cannot separate from

Translation emergence of translation Machinery from immersions of life or Something like transition missionary This whole informatic chemical Computing System that is also capable of dynamism And evolvability that comes with Biology Biological behavior from emergence of Life itself we've definitely Took a lot of steps towards Understanding Origins we are able to Create molecules from Right Environments lightning Heat And you make amino acids so we are able To create the building blocks the Miller Yuri experiment that's Now 60 years ago We are able to uh create the building Blocks we are able to make them interact With one another they can get more Complex some call this messy there's all This chemistry that's going on we are Able to Have these chemicals interact with by Another maybe Um It have even some emergent properties That we can quantify Definitely there is this trend towards More systems level approach to Origins With more introduction of systems level Chemistry or network level chemistry uh And complex system integration in order To understand how now that we can make These building blocks we can make them

Interact with one another but how do we Make them interact with one another in More intelligent ways that will Have the properties of a biological System will be heritable it will be Responding to the environment it will Mutate and it will sustain itself That is the final bit I think in in our Uh origin of Life Adventure and we are Extremely close I I'm very optimistic That our community will get a handle of This problem in in this decade this is In fact I think one of the most exciting Times to be doing this work what would Be super convincing to you like Incredibly amazing would blow your mind If it was done X was done in the lab like what Would yeah I mean I don't know if you Would call it origin of life but Something really truly remarkable and Special done in the lab what would that Look like to you the the Properties that I list This was five properties that I listed About in the Machinery that is capable Of sensing and responding the Environment if we can Um I would imagine it's similar to a Miller Yuri experiment where they On the sparked in a particular Environmental forces and were able to Produce a chemical that is important for Life or a mix of chemicals important for

Life or building blocks rather I would If I saw that a similar experiment there And well-defined geochemical perimeter Was subjected on a mix of chemistry Which led that chemistry to form some Level of computation informatic Biological property and by biological I'm going to keep it to very minimum Um as I defined early on Um that would be super exciting to me is Self-organizing chemistry that we can Create experimentally in a flask by Simulating the conditions of early Earth Beard radiation be it temperature or mix Of both That would be very cool and doing all The five the the chemical physical Informatic computational biology yes So like simulation and a computer would Not no would not be good it would be Great because they help to understand The parameters Maybe formulate maybe quantify create Models But ultimately you need to Experiment unless it's quantum Mechanical simulation but that's going To be extremely difficult so simulating From the physics up that's going to be Very because you're gonna have to Simulate The the physical the chemical the Informatic I mean honestly it's it's Very start to it's very difficult to Start the quantum mechanics and end up

In biology all through simulation but The stuff that deepminded with Alpha Fold and protein folding is really Inspiring it's a It's inspiring in that you're able to do To solve a difficult biology yeah Absolutely that's that's why there's Definitely a lot of benefits to those Models predictions because they at least Help the experiment experimentalists to Come up with the priors and parameterize Things better maybe eliminate very Obvious dead ends early on given that Experiments take such a long time and It's a huge investment Um and no one's a better experimentalist Than nature so let me let me ask you Perhaps a depressing sad for you Question really want to make me sad You're not going to win no I know There's a flame of optimism in you that Will never be extinguished okay uh the Idea of past Birmingham You mentioned would we seed another Planet with life is it possible that our Planet Was seated with life from elsewhere so What the the proposition I made I like To think of it as protospermia rather Than panspermia because it seems it's Even more it's a more proto-state than The acknowledging because in in Pan's Permia you still have a self Right you still have something that is

Very even the cell to me would be very Earth-like yeah right I'm I'm talking B I'm talking at sub-seller level in in The proposition of uh Spreading chemistry so spreading Chemical ingredients not spreading life Exactly it will be more like the Fertilizer that is well adopted and Compatible with that planetary body in Pan spermia you're still imagining Either an entire bacteria or microbe or A cell or something that is a DNA which Is still tearing so in that sense that Would That doesn't matter to you because it's It's chemistry that's the initial Conditions doesn't matter how the Initial conditions came to be they are What they are and let's go from there Yeah and there's all kinds of Fascinatingly different Initial conditions in terms of chemistry At different planets yes but but in Terms of past permia I mean obviously That's that there's going to be always Room for Those sort of discussions or there will Be uh those discussions will always be Present I think in any life in Universe Debates but the problem I have with Panspermia is that it removes the Problem from The planet to somewhere else it makes it Very difficult to answer scientifically

Right you you are just you just took the Problem away from this planet and uh Formulated in a way that I cannot go and Try to understand in the lab doing Experiments or even through models does It though so I've heard brilliant Biologists like yourself say that but I I just to me Okay here's how I think of Earth so I Actually am able to hold all these Possibilities in my head and all of them Are inspiring to me I kind of think There's a possibility that Earth is just An experiment by a graduate student by An alien graduate student like so I know The exact episodes of Star Trek you're Talking about but like there is some to Me that's inspiring if we are but that's Not what's uh panspermia is about that You're talking about my proposition That's not what panspermia is what's Pants it just oh life just came from Elsewhere Still that's interesting because there's Still giant leaps that happened on Earth It seems like beyond the initial Primitive organisms like eukaryotes I Don't think panspermia I usually uh Articulates at the level of eukaryotes I Think they talk about Bacteria primarily I think so right so That that's still interesting because All the different leaps of evolution Still happen here on Earth that's still

Interesting yeah but it's I mean it's Definitely Um Interesting to listen to but I I Wouldn't uh place it you know I wouldn't Know how to place it in the studies of Origin of life I guess or early yes I Will place it you have the initial Conditions for the origin of life and You try to create life in that way that You've described in the five components And it keeps failing See what what pantspermia allows you to Do is to also consider the question Maybe there's missing components how do You answer that question To exploration and through science yes Looking outside looking outside of Earth Looking at the fundamentals of chemistry And physics how do you understand that With fundamentals of chemistry and Physics how do you understand how do you Understand the gravity but you're Talking about panspermia right just I Don't understand how would you it's Different than if if you think it's Similar to looking for life in the Universe is that what you're thinking no I'm saying there's a missing component That came from elsewhere but the whole Entire organism is not a missing Component like that right I mean when You're thinking about origin of life no No no that that's an assumption your

Your assumption is all the ingredients For the origin of Life are here on Earth Now I tend to believe that most likely That's the case I'm just saying it's Inspiring to think that there is some Ingredients You're going to push back because that's Not past perm yeah that's promised but See okay so think But yeah it's also kind of fun to push Back on you uh no I I I understand I Understand I understand if actually a Living organism Ended up here from elsewhere that means A lot of the exploration we're doing Here with the ingredients that we know Will not give us the clues to the Um to the origin of life but it just Seems like It's still very useful to try to create Life here and then we'll see wait a Minute don't you think we'll be able to Prove not prove but show that past Burma Is very likely Like if we just keep failing we Understand biology deeply I don't I Don't think so I mean there there will Be the failure is is not going to Indicate that this must have been I Don't think anyone will put the problem To some some something else just because Our failures our experiments failed so Failure means we don't understand the Chemistry deeply enough yeah and we've

Given the progress we made and how many Brilliant people are working on this Right now and it's definitely more I Would say that we are approaching this Problem in more broader ways with Different ways possible I'm confident That we will get there for for us again Very interested in if Early souls and first cells and what Followed the origin of life but we Cannot be given that it's a Continuum That's the between the origin and Emergence of first cells it's hard to Separate these two ends from one another So given that life is a solution to a Chemistry problem if we re-ran Earth a Million times how different would The results be If we look at that wheel How different would be the the Tree of Life do you think like what's Your Gut Say My uh mind asks are you imagining if if We're repeating the planet one million Times are we seeing Um artists things that happened I'm not Talking at the chemical level but at the Environment level did do they happen at The same time at the same frequency at The same intensity every time you're Running this tape over and over again Yes you mean like geological stuff yeah Like so is this your singles are Important I mean that's that's yep the

Fact that you would ask that question is Also fascinating so that's important the Timing the frequency the intensity of Geological yeah so when when we run this Imaginary rewind and play experiments in Our minds I want to know whether we are Positioning all the same geologic events At the same chronological order as well Or whether we are also giving them more Randomness So if the volcano erupted is happening At the same time if if you have a are Dinosaurs getting wiped off every time With the same meteorite that's hitting The same but also like temperature Changes that changes everything That's actually I've heard you say Somewhere that one of the things that's Fascinating to you about this whole Process of evolution is that The the mem the memory the the process Of evolution the all the mechanisms were Invented and developed Despite all the variation geologically Through the hardship that Earth has gone Through that the the biological Innovations persisted this person yeah Despite that which is which is Interesting you kind of think of the Biological Innovations kind of happening On their own because we so we uh Actually have a center of exploring this Problem uh we want to understand whether It's almost like judging a book by its

Cover right do you just look at an Environment and then see whatever is Present or scares in that environment And then think that okay the life form That will exist in this environment will Obviously have a lot of molybdenum in Its system look at all this bully them Around here or will it be uh because if You say that you are now putting the Environment in in The more Prime driver role right that You're saying that environment will Determine what biology will or will not Use Um but we've done studies that Show that it's not necessarily the Straightforward that for instance we Looked at going back to nitrogen uh one Thing that's fascinating about the way Cells fix nitrogen uh the ones that can Do is that they also do this through a Lot of help of a lot of metals a lot of Elemental support really And Um which geologists use to understand Where did this metabolism even evolved Where at first place so we look at Ancient oceans we try to understand the Elemental composition of ancient oceans And what we see is that In some cases the metabolisms even Though they prefer a certain metal or an Element that is in the environment That metal wasn't abundant in the

Environment but still life shows that so It's not that straightforward as though Whatever you are you are what you eat But you don't necessarily eat what is Obvious to you and just because there's A lot of that food around it doesn't Mean life will ultimately go there maybe Most of the time it will but it seems Like in the case of nitrogen fixation it Didn't and maybe that made the Difference it's so cool that uh right It's not the Abundant resource that's Going to be the definition of what kind Of life flourishes So So it's not it's not a straightforward Thing yes but your sense is that the Different timing of the different Conditions of the environment would Change the way Evolution happens yeah For instance I mean there I think it's In the 80s maybe earlier than that the Stephen J Gold's book Wonderful Life Which changed I think a lot of Scientists life including mine Um he contemplates on this notion of the Tape of Life Of course I hope people still know what tape is But I think your listeners will know What tape is I don't know it's the uh Tape Taiwan tell me about this is it Like a tick tock do can you swipe on it He speculated or suggested this Hypothetical experiment whether if life

Was recorded on or Can Be Imagined to be Recorded on a linear is it linear chain Of events recorded on a tape and if we Were to rewind the step would be listen To the same song right so this was and In his proposition I also thought Um yeah but are we replaying the tape in The same exact manner or are we meaning All the geological and environmental Events are they happening at the same Time because then you removed the Randomness from equation a little bit Right you just Removed it because you're assuming Everything will happen at the same time At the same intensity so that's not two Contingent Um that means that the natural selection You're thinking is really operating it More or evolution is operating it more Under more random forces then that can Be dictated by the environment so in our Way of understanding or thinking about Rewinding replaying I don't think we're Thinking about the role of the Environment is clearly or don't seem to Be integrated as much But I'll I also wonder if it's possible That the chemistry ultimately defines The destination That uh Despite all the environmental changes Despite all the randomness You're not talking about whether life

Will emerge and sustain itself we're Talking about whether life will emerge And sustain itself in the shape and form That is similar to what we have right Now so you are chemistry on chemistry We're having this conversation and your Plans are chemistry too they are also Having their own conversation these Plants are fake but yes but I still Didn't want to say that but they they're Fake do you look at my place of course That would be fake otherwise they would Die what's wrong with this place it's uh It's wonderful it's Um we're I'm Alice and this is Wonderland this this is great this is Great it's just that you know there's This is a place where robots flourish And this is that those plants are fake Are you saying that you and I are the Only living organisms well obviously There are microbes in this room but yeah Yeah we are the only living organisms a Second of getting a dog well you you Know this is not a clean room so you Have microbes here yes many millions yes So so you and I and all the microbes in This room your chemical systems that are Operating it in a way that we can Respond and sense and our environments And whatnot yeah but in if you are Asking if you're going to be here then You're imagining that another solution Is also possible which is different

Then the fundamentals of life because Life will be always life will do its Life thing I guess it goes all the way back to the Things we're talking about translation And the stuff you were messing with is Figuring out what is the important stuff And what isn't Makes you wonder about you know just Like with the Trans uh translation Machinery With human beings I wonder what's the Important stuff is it important to have Two limbs Is it important to have eyes like it was Obvious that the sensory mechanism of Eyes like sight were to develop how many Times if you're in Earth would the Sensory mechanism of sight develop and What would it look like would it be one Giant eye I would be two what's with a symmetry Why are we so damn symmetrical in Response to Steve J Gold's proposition Uh Most people who would who argue that Life is convergent and it will in fact Lead to a few determined outcomes or the It's not that the outcome is determined Per se but uh it's the pathways are Restricted and the mutational Trajectories that life can act upon uh Are already very limited so that the Final outcomes are a few

And eyes being one of them so The con the convergence that the eye Level was suggested as an example was Presented as an example of why life may Actually embark on the same solution Over and over again given that many Species evolved it independently from One another do you think there's any Inkling of Truth there like uh is it Just us humans thinking we're special I Think the those Innovations came again So far after the uh The fun stuff yes uh because it's it's Thank you I mean thank you I think we Humans tend to talk about the later Stuff but without the earlier yeah so When we when we think of earlier there's And I asked this to my students too I Want them to close their eyes and think About just nothingness but dust we don't Have trees we don't have plants when we Say an empty place or visually at least Two we're talking about a planet that is Really alien so understanding our own Past is similar to understanding an Alien planet altogether given that it is A very different planet that did not Have any Oxygen for 2 billion years we There's nothing that is familiar to us That we would even think about with when We think about life that is present in Our past yet here we are so cool that From that came this like houses and we Are very very

We are the super late arrivals to the Party right so this is definitely not Our planets it's the microbial planets That we live in but the potential to Create us was always there I just know that Because we were created Oh I don't know I what is it you think it's Possible this even for the early stuff Yeah maybe if it's super unlikely yeah That we just got super oh this is the Planet that got really lucky given the Chemistry Like maybe to create the bacteria is not So lucky But to create complex organisms all the Way up to mammals that's super lucky yes And it may all come down to a few Innovations that happened at the Molecular levels Um that may or may not be inevitable That's that so all these molecular Tricks may have enabled the the sort of Mere existence of whatever you are able To Define as familiar to yourself and You have a hope that science can answer This these questions to reconstruct Science is answering these questions I Mean it's a we are limited to going uh Back to the beginning in our ways right So we rely on biology it is overwritten You're talking about for four billion Year old records that is ever changing

That again makes it beautiful but also Makes it difficult it's not tractable Geology has Some degree to some degree it has a Record of a more static Frozen state record that is embedded On itself on the surface of this planet If we can find them And that's the key that most of these Recorded Um Remnants are If we're lucky we find them they are not Naturally selected They're they're found they need to be Found for us to read them so we work With a very handful set of samples Especially when we talk about the Deep Past the Planets with no oxygen when we passed The great oxidation event threshold that Is about 2.5 billion years so the Earliest life is even harder you are Trying to write the story of life based On a handful of rocks and what is Recorded on them Speaking of finding Select remnants of our deep past you Said that you've been thinking about Nick Newlands essay on scientific knowledge And scientific abstraction so let me ask You what do you think scientific Questions and answers or in general

Ideas come from You're a scientist You ask very good questions and try Systematically and rigorously to answer Them through experiment Where do you think ideas come from so Ideas come all the time right there are All kinds of ideas there are good ideas That are not so good ideas Um There are really exciting ideas uh maybe Some boring ones but Um if if you Are you really interested in doing Something different then you need to be Willing to take the risk to be wrong Uh and that's incredibly difficult it's Even though we talked about the idealist Uh sort of notion behind science that we Ultimately want to be rejected or our Ideas need to reject it for it too for The entire infrastructure to move Forward There there is a level of risk-taking I Think behind Um Any creative idea and and I mean that in A true sense if you are disappointed That your idea didn't work Then it wasn't a risk because you still Hoped that it will work Through risk is that you accept that it May not work so that the failure Shouldn't also surprise you

Yeah Is that when you embark on stuff do you When you embark on an idea do you Actually Contemplate and accept uh failure like As a society I wouldn't say so but I Eliminated a lot of the things uh Out of my work line by simply Not feeling like studying them I was Bored chasing certain questions and I so You trusted the signal of boredom as a As a good sign that it's not a good Question it should definitely Be whatever you're doing should be Exciting to you if you're the only if There's only one person that should be Ever excited about what you're doing That should be you yeah and if that's Enough for for that idea to go somewhere I think that you need to believe in the Idea but at the same time I think it's Important to not fall in love with your Mistakes You know that you if if something isn't Working You should let it go Instead of trying to fix it even though You feel that this is a mistake or you Know that it's a mistake In order to Sorry instead of trying to fix it You should Wrap it up and move on to something else Which is incredibly hard good advice for

Science but also good advice for Relationships Um but okay so like well that's actually Really hard especially I mean this is Like PhD stuff like if you sink in so Much of your time not even PhD the Entire entire Scientific careers it's Really tough to let go yes and there is Not a lot of room for True freedom Um maybe at this certain degree so first You need to be trained right it's not That scientists are just brilliant Amazing humans I mean they just know and Learn how they they know how to do Science because they're trained and how To do science so that that is important Because I I as someone who Wants to definitely I'm hoping that I'm Giving the message that this is for Everybody that there's this notion of Science scientists being super smart People that's definitely not true right It is a method that you learn to solve a Problem that's really what science is And some are really good at it uh and They they get better edits under really Good guidance maybe good mentorship And ultimately everyone finds their own Style of problem solving and what sort Of problems they sold but I have not met A scientist that finds their own pursue Boring Well it can happen but they're not going To be affected just like you said I

Think It's kind of interesting because Um in in the age of social media and Attention economies and stuff like that You know I've interacted with a lot of Folks like uh YouTubers and so on I think a lot of their work is driven by What others find exciting And I think that ultimately leads to A Life That's not fulfilling I can see the Reason behind it or perhaps there's a Again failure a fear of failure that can Be a major determinant of that pattern Right so you try to do something that is Accepted by others because that's maybe Unlikely to Um give results right away but it's a Long game it's a very long game and if You're aiming a long-term change in Long-term impact you're going to be very Very patient about it and you better Um Tame your ego I mean on YouTube and those kinds of Places on the internet on social media You get feedback Like right away and so it's even harder To be patient yes so in because yeah the Change in ideas develop over a period of Months and years if not decades and the Response from social media and so on is On the rate of seconds and minutes and Hours so I recommend actual physical Libraries for people who may want to

Appreciate or remember the sense of time And and how long it takes to build Something I think it is Um you're right that's the immediacy and The right response of and and the fact That the these Places I've algorithm wants you to Respond right away and interact with Itself right so Um I can see the appeal but through Innovation I think it doesn't even Scream it doesn't it's not shiny Especially in the beginning But it's also important to not fool Ourselves and think that everything that People criticize has some super Important meaning behind it So it's a mix of the technique the Methods and your gut feeling Yeah and a weird dance between learning And accepting the the ideas of the Current science and At times trusting your gut and rejecting Those because science progresses by Sometimes rejecting the ideas of the Past or sometimes building on them in a Way that changes them transforms them Yes and and I think what is hard is to Really drill down To a concept right so you can create a a New thing and then it may be appealing And get a lot of gain a lot of traction But to sustain that to continue that you Really need to show the true expertise

So it's not only about defining a Problem but then really systematically Solve that problem I'll do maybe over the course of decades You mentioned the library I've also saw That you've translated scientific Documents or at least like mentioned That you did it at some point in your Life Um So let me ask you how much do you think Is Lost in Translation In science and in life How many languages do you speak two two How much is lost In Translation in in science and in life Between those two it's actually three Because science isn't like another Language right it is I speak Russian a Little bit of French and it's always Fascinating to see how much is lost and The Soviet Union has a tradition of Science and Mathematics and so on and It's interesting that a lot of the Wisdom gained from That part of the world is lost basically Because of it was never translated Per se Maybe it's more like a gain in some Sense right because you understand and Science is ultimately a human pursue so You cannot separate As much as maybe it's the best System that humans ever came up with

To seek knowledge to generate and make Sense of the world It works most of the time it doesn't Mean it's perfect Did the kind of translation do by the Way was for scientific work I directly Translated for scientific work yes I Think that Um again we Brains are equally distributed but not Opportunities are not right so if you Um Want to include if you want to benefit From all human power whatever we can Generate as human beings you need to Include everybody on the table and that Is by extending the opportunity is I Think most of us that make it Tend to think that we did because of Something special about ourselves and But it is important to know that no we Were given opportunities and that's why We are here not because There was something inherently special About us or Um or that the system truly selects for The ones that really are yeah and Language is a part of the opportunity Yeah language is on the fortunate Because comes with similar to bacteria Right they they speak these languages They they have even we call this we call Culturing the bacteria we call it Culturing right when we grow bacteria

That we isolate from the environment in The lab meaning that you create an Environment for them to grow and Thrive And sustain themselves that's what we Say but cultures for microbiologists for Language with language comes a different Culture a different perspective Um and and you bring that to The table I mean it brings the sense of Diversity that can only be achieved by Clashing perhaps two different cultures Two different languages two different Approaches maybe in some cases four Different approaches Yeah I think language is not just a Mechanism of communication it's a way to Um it's a dynamic system of exploring Ideas and it's interesting to see that Different languages explores ideas Differently yes and I think that so when I said science is like a language itself I said it in two different ways one is Very very literal meaning that you can Speak English but you that doesn't mean You will understand the scientific paper Uh that it's a different level of English that you need to learn to Understand even not just for scientific Papers even from discipline to Discipline I I challenge any chemist to Read an evolutionary biology paper And vice versa it may sound extremely Different a different language Altogether but there's also the language

Of communicating and because words Matter how we talk matter how we Represent our Science Matters so yes Just learning English as a second Language alone it's not going to make You fluent in science either And it's interesting because In that sense you speak many more than Three languages because uh you're pretty Cross-disciplinary it seems like you're You're you have a foot in In a lot of disciplines I mean geology Biology Evolutionary biology I mean there's uh Chemistry Biochemistry biophysics even we do a lot Of Statistics so there's a lot of Mathematics to what we do as well yes we Like to think of it as this uh NASA astrobiology program says I Repeated because it's fun that it is not A Fruit salad but it's a smoothie That that's what we are generating Uh if it's not a fruit salad so a Smoothie is a successful Uh is a successful combination of those Fields that are fruit salad it's not I Wouldn't say it's success is necessarily It's some if you put it if you put the Wrong ingredients and you press the Blender and you made it a smoothie you Mean it can ruin the entire place can it Though because I feel like yes I can

Definitely assess that for ginger first Those that ruins every smoothie I don't Like ginger I think so but it's just a Personal thing and also I don't like Cinnamon but um oh the ginger has a Cinnamony taste because I thought Ginger No I don't think they do but I I also Don't like they add in a lot of Smoothies I was forced a smoothie I went To Malibu with a good friend of mine Damn Reynolds and he forced me to Consume a smoothie and you know it's Probably the first smoothie I've ever Had because I've always had was very Judgmental of the kind of places and People that drink smoothies but it was Good it was good well smoothie is very American so I yeah it is an American Thing I wouldn't say success per se but It is true that's when you dance at the Edge of different disciplines that That's when the Inevitably you know Innovation will rise Because you will see things Um maybe a little differently when You're on the edge right so But it will probably take longer and it May not be understood right away it may Not come into final form quickly given That it is a new Concept Rising so therefore the patients Will make more sense I'm sorry patients Will be even more important so if you Are

Um in other words if you are into Immediate Appreciation That's probably not the way to go You're one chemical organism Uh so let me ask maybe a little bit more Of a personal thing where did your life Form originate Um and what fond memory do you have from The early days of childhood Um the representative of your bacteria Culture I was born in Istanbul so I grew up in Turkey Um Which city that has two continents which Is quite interesting you have a you see A welcome to Europe sign and then Welcome to Asia sign the same day Depending on which part of the bridge You are Um so that's where I was born and I Spent about roughly 20 years of my life And then I immigrated to United States And it's a very proud culture it's a Beautiful culture it's a very flavorful Culture What aspects of it is part of who you Are that what what are the beautiful Aspects that you carry with you and your Heart Uh I think uh we are very sincerely Human As a culture I think that we have a

Saying that don't go to bed Full if you're the neighbor is hungry So you know you wouldn't Eat any food in front of someone where I Come from without offering to share the Bite so I think those things however Small they may sound Um a really big deal especially when you Are put in a or move to a place that may Not have those attributes So I think that Culturally there we had a lot of Conscious like and You know just roll deep human Um the connection value the connection Between human beings I think so yeah I Think I definitely carried that with me We talk a lot about biology let me ask You about the Romantic question what Role does Love play in The Human Condition or In the entirety of life on Earth It's not easy to learn how to or how to Love if you're not loved Okay so so it's something but the good News is that it is something that Um you can learn I think that's you can Practice uh and and teach yourself how To maybe give yourself the thing that Wasn't given to you and then ultimately Give it to others I think it would be Quite Arrogant to think that we will be Capable of loving it could be anything

Really Um so just like translation it's a Repeating and a dynamical process that You can learn yeah that you can learn Yes and you should learn we should even There is no excuse to not learning to Love yeah because that's a deeply human Thing it is a deeply human thing it's it Is a very sad thing if if any one of us Passes this planet without the Knowing what love is and that could be a Love to a pet a love to a plants to a Robot Just kidding Um or a fake plant We love we can't help who we love uh What advice would you give to a young Person today high school college Um how to have a career They can be proud of or how to have a Life they can be proud of we said an Interesting thing about brains being Distributed evenly but opportunity is Not It's um it's really interesting to think About I've I've talked to folks from Africa You realize that there's whole areas of This Earth That have so much Brilliance uh but Unfortunately so little opportunity And one of the exciting things about the 21st century is more and more Opportunities are created and so the

Brilliance is unlocked in all different Places And so all these young people now have The opportunity to like do something to Change the world I had a chance to visit Um Bosnia So I Um was invited to give a talk in a very Uh up north like very northernmost part Of the country That was impacted by the war Tremendously And it was a Public talk it was open to everybody in The village and I was told even people Drew from Sarajevo to attend Whenever I think about Our role as a scientist or the Beneficiaries of the knowledge that we Create I always think about that night That's how many people were in that room It was incredibly crowded And the a lot of lots of young people Who were trying to Start everything new and not do or not Carry Um Replace whatever maybe the feeling that Was taken from them with hope and love Starts A New Beginning be deceit for the Next Generation And it's moved me so much that they all Came to hear about early life

Space something may be different for Them that maybe they were always Interested and never thought about But what what stayed with me was the Just the look and the feeling the look On their faces and the feeling in the Room the energy just was really moving Their willingness to be the seed The the first of their family and Generation to do that big news yes and I Will and that's exactly why I'm telling This whole story because Um some for most of us we may have to be That seat in our families that the first One to do something new Um to do to break that cycle whatever it Is that you want to break free from uh I Want I would want the young people to Know that you can be that that's that There are Um Just wonderful things to learn from this Life and it's just incredible to be Living And I would want them to know that their Voice matters and they need to use it Especially uh Those who think that their voice doesn't Matter Ultimately I think what it comes down to Is to trusting yourself Trusting and respecting your voice If you're not loved learn how to not if You were not respected start by

Respecting yourself learn how to respect Yourself you can teach yourself things Yes uh really difficult when you're Surrounded by people That don't believe in you yes I think I Definitely know the feeling and I would Uh just want them to know that they Don't need to be defined By or reduce down to What others see in them Believe in yourself have the respect if You try to develop the respect and love For yourself And then from that it flourishes you'll Find others they'll give you love it may Not I mean life is not fair it's true yeah He prepared that it's it's a it's a it's Not very fair unfortunately And so I don't want to depict this Disney story that and then yes and Everything will be just fine it's mostly Isn't but you learn away learn you know Life does it all the time Speaking of which what do you think is The meaning of all this What's the meaning of life Why are we here why we are here all the Beauty you've discussed Why Is the translational mechanism Machinery Here Why I don't think why so much Beauty why So much Beauty

It is because we choose to see it that Way it's beautiful but there is no Meaning I don't think no yeah But why is it so beautiful why did we Choose why from where is the imperative To see it as to see so much Beauty in a Thing that scientifically speaking or From a rational perspective is void of Beauty it's just it just is Not everybody chooses to see the beauty Haters Gonna Hate I mean we have the capacity to see that We have the capacity so why why not use It to the fullest right we we have the Capacity but that that capacity isn't That fascinating that we developed that It feels like that was always late in There and in the whole process of life This ability to Find to to introspect ourselves I mean Like this definitely would be soothing To things like that but I don't think There is a meaning like that way I that That's it's fascinating that we can Understand it Um but why is it soothing There's a desire there's a longing but Suiting doesn't mean That there's a meaning why why is Soothing meaning let me just put it this Way because there is just I think so Much unfairness going on Um I wouldn't even dare myself to think That there's a meaning to out of my out

Of respect to the ones that are Suffering I see I I think I think our suffering emerges Flourishing in Beauty I mean that's what I see I agree with you when I went and Went to Ukraine it's all the people Suffering in their eyes and in their Stories is a hope for the future there's A love Um is a love for the people who are Still living as a love for life so it's There and that's the dark thing is the Suffering and the law somehow Intensifies your appreciation of the Life that is the left that's a weird Thing I think that's There is some something about Still doing your best and believing that There's Whatever the goodness is worth working For Um Is beyond and and to do that without a Meaning That there's something more humiliate Humbling And and profound about that If And and I we have a Um this will come out very random okay So just Um in Turkish bathrooms there is this uh Sign

That says Um Leave it as you want to find it Yeah and I think That's a pretty good That's your that's the meaning of life Found in the turkey there's wisdom to That there's wisdom to that Whatever you leave defines you right So I think there's some profound meaning To that too that just just leave it as You would Want to find it So that uh you're a little scribble in Long story of life on Earth is one that Ultimately did a pretty good job you Know it at least kept it the same as you Found it Or at least I left it in the way that I I wish I found it yeah yeah right Oh man yes that's that's the wisdom from Turkish bathrooms that's where I Searched for wisdom as well and as as we We started with the origin of life and Ended with the wisdom of the Turkish Pratham I think that's a perfect Conversation you're an incredible person Uh the humor the humanity but also the Brilliance of your work Um I really appreciate that you would Talk with me today this was really fun Thanks for having me Thanks for listening to this Conversation with batul kachar to

Support this podcast please check out Our sponsors in the description and now Let me leave you with one of my favorite Quotes from Robert Frost In three words I can sum up everything I've ever learned about life It goes on Thank you for listening I hope to see You next time

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