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In 1959, American chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey, from
the University of Chicago, developed an experiment to simulate
the chemical interaction of different molecules in a mechanism
that could emulate the conditions of a pre-biological Earth.1 In
the Miller–Urey experiment, the authors conceived apparatus that
would simulate the water cycle, following a process of evaporation
and condensation passing through an electric spark, which would
simulate lightning. Like in pre-biological Earth, some gasses such as
ammonia, methane and hydrogen were added, allowing the process
to recombine the molecular structures of the elements present in the
system. The device ran for two weeks, after which the water turned
black, and further analysis demonstrated that complex molecules
had formed, giving rise to amino acids some of the building
blocks of biological life. The results constituted the first step
connecting ideas of chemistry with biological evolution. They gave
rise to theories of chemical evolution that are still in development
today. This was all possible, argues popular science author Steven
Johnson, because of the combinatorial power of the carbon atom.2
Indeed, the carbon atom possesses a structure that allows it
to connect to other elements and other carbon atoms. From ...

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