Stanley Miller

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This article is about the American chemist. For the American artist of the same name, see Stanley Mouse.
Stanley Lloyd Miller
Miller1999.jpg
Born (1930-03-07)March 7, 1930
Oakland, California, United States
Died May 20, 2007(2007-05-20) (aged 77)
National City, California, United States
Nationality United States
Fields Chemistry
Institutions University of Chicago
Columbia University
University of California, San Diego
Alma mater University of California at Berkeley
Doctoral advisor Harold Urey
Doctoral students Jeffrey Bada
Known for Abiogenesis
Notable awards Oparin Medal

Stanley Lloyd Miller (March 7, 1930 – May 20, 2007) was a Jewish-American chemist who made landmark experiments in the origin of life by demonstrating that a wide range of vital organic compounds can be synthesized by fairly simple chemical processes from inorganic substances. His research publication in 1953[1] catapulted him to instant fame, and has been popularised as the Urey-Miller experiment or, more appropriately, the Miller experiment. Over five decades of his continued and dedicated research into chemical evolution of the early Earth had strongly established natural synthesis of chemical building blocks of life from inanimate inorganic molecules, under variable atmospheric conditions.[2] He is aptly regarded as the "father of prebiotic chemistry".[3][4]

Life and career[edit]

Stanley Miller was born in Oakland, California. He was the second child (after a brother, Donald) of Nathan and Edith Miller, descendants of Jewish immigrants from Belarus and Latvia. His father was a successful attorney and even held the office of the Oakland Deputy District Attorney in 1927. His mother was a school teacher so that education was quite a natural environment in the family. In fact, while in Oakland High School he was nicknamed "a chem whiz". He followed his brother to the University of California at Berkeley to study chemistry mainly because he felt that Donald would be able to help him on the subject. He completed BSc in June 1951. For graduation course, he faced financial problem, as his father died in 1946 leaving the family in money shortage. Fortunately with the help from Berkeley faculty (UC Berkeley did not have assistantship), he was offered teaching assistantship at the University of Chicago in February 1951, which could provide the necessary fund for graduation course. He joined his post and got registered for PhD course in September. He frantically searched for a thesis topic to work on, meeting one professor after another, and he was inclined to theoretical aspect as experiments tended to be laborious. He was initially convinced to work with the eminent theoretical physicist Edward Teller on synthesis of elements in the stars. Following the customary seminar of the university, which a graduate student is obligated to attend, he attended the chemistry seminar in which the Nobel laureate Harold Urey gave a lecture on the origin of solar system and how organic synthesis could be possible under reducing environment such as the primitive Earth's atmosphere. Miller was immensely inspired. After a year of fruitless work with Teller, and the prospect of Teller leaving Chicago, Miller was prompted to approach Urey in September 1952 for a fresh research. Urey was not immediately enthusiastic on Miller's interest in prebiotic synthesis, as no successful works had been done, and he even suggested working on meteorite thallium. With persistence Miller persuaded Urey and he eventually earned his degree in 1954, and a long-lasting reputation.

After completing a doctorate, Miller moved to the California Institute of Technology as a F. B. Jewett Fellow in 1954 and 1955. Here he worked on the mechanism involved in the amino and hydroxy acid synthesis. He then joined the Department of Biochemistry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, where he worked for the next 5 years. When the new University of California at San Diego was established, he became the first Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry in 1960, and an Associate Professor in 1962, and then a full Professor in 1968.[3][4]

Miller's Experiment[edit]

The Miller experiment appeared in his technical paper in the 15 May 1953 issue of Science,[1] which transformed the concept of scientific ideas on the origin of life into a respectable realm of empirical inquiry.[5] His study has become a classic textbook definition of the scientific basis of origin of life, or more specifically, the first definitive experimental evidence of the Oparin-Haldane's "primordial soup" theory. Urey and Miller designed to simulate the ocean-atmospheric condition of the primitive Earth by using a continuous run of steam into a mixture of methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), and hydrogen (H2). The gaseous mixture was then exposed to electrical discharge, which induced chemical reaction. After a week of reaction, Miller detected the formation of amino acids, such as glycine, α- and β-alanine, using paper chromatography. He also detected aspartic acid and gamma-amino butyric acid, but was not confident because of the weak spots. Since amino acids are the basic structural and functional constituents of cellular life, the experiment showed the possibility of natural organic synthesis for the origin of life on earth.[6][7]

Publication problem[edit]

Miller showed his results to Urey, who suggested for immediate publication. Remarkably, Urey declined to be the co-author lest Miller would receive little or no credit. The manuscript with Miller as the sole author was submitted to Science on 10 February 1953. After weeks of silence, the quite irritated Urey inquired and wrote to the chair of the editorial board on 27 February on the lack of action in reviewing the manuscript. A month passed, but still no decision. On 10 March the infuriated Urey demanded the manuscript to be returned, and he himself submitted it to the Journal of the American Chemical Society on 13 March. By then, the editor of Science, apparently annoyed by Urey's insinuation, wrote directly to Miller that the manuscript was to be published. Miller accepted it and withdrew the manuscript from the Journal of the American Chemical Society.[8]

Follow-up[edit]

Miller continued his research till his death in 2007. As the knowledge on early atmosphere progressed, and techniques for chemical analyses advanced, he kept on refining the details and methods. He not only succeeded in synthesising more and more varieties of amino acids, he also produced a wide variety of inorganic and organic compounds essential for cellular construction and metabolism.[9] In support, a number of independent researchers also confirmed the range of chemical syntheses.[10][11][12][13] With the most recent revelation that, unlike the original Miller's experimental hypothesis of strongly reducing condition, the primitive atmosphere could be quite neutral containing other gases in different proportions,[14] Miller's last works, posthumoulsy published in 2008, still succeeded in synthesising an array of organic compounds using such condition.[15]

Reassessment[edit]

In 1972 Miller and his collaborators repeated the 1953 experiment, but with a newly developed automatic chemical analysers, such as ion-exchange chromatography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. They synthesised 33 amino acids, including 10 that are known to naturally occur in organisms. These included all of the primary alpha-amino acids found in the Murchison meteorite, which fell on Australia in 1969.[16] Subsequent electric discharge experiment actually produced more variety of amino acids than that in the meteorite.[17]

Just before Miller's death, several boxes containing vials of dried residues were found among his laboratory materials at the university. The note indicated that some were from his original 1952-1954 experiments, produced by using three different apparatuses, and one from 1958, which included H2S in the gaseous mixture for the first time and the result never published. In 2008 his students re-analysed the 1952 samples using more sensitive techniques, such as high-performance liquid chromatography and liquid chromatography–time of flight mass spectrometry. Their result showed the synthesis of 22 amino acids and 5 amines, revealing that the original Miller experiment produced many more compounds than actually reported in 1953.[18] The unreported 1958 samples were analysed in 2011, from which 23 amino acids and 4 amines, including 7 organosulfur compounds, were detected.[2][19][20][21]

Death[edit]

Miller suffered a series of strokes since November 1999 that increasingly inhibited his physical activity. He was living in a nursing home in National City, south of San Diego, and died on 20 May 2007 at the nearby Paradise Hospital. He is survived by his brother Donald and his family, and his devoted partner Maria Morris.[6]

Honours and recognitions[edit]

Miller is remembered for his seminal works in the origin of life (and he was considered a pioneer in the field of exobiology), the natural occurrence of clathrate hydrates, and general mechanisms of action of anesthesia. He was elected to the US National Academy of Science in 1973. He was an Honorary Counselor of the Higher Council for Scientific Research of Spain in 1973. He was awarded the Oparin Medal by the International Society of the Study of the Origin of Life in 1983, and served as its President from 1986 to 1989.[6]

He was nominated for Nobel Prize more than once, but never won any.[22]

Stanley L. Miller Award for young scientists under the age of 37 was instituted by the International Astrobiology Society since 2008.[23]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Miller SL (1953). "Production of amino acids under possible primitive earth conditions". Science 117 (3046): 528–529. doi:10.1126/science.117.3046.528. PMID 13056598. 
  2. ^ a b Bada JL (2013). "New insights into prebiotic chemistry from Stanley Miller's spark discharge experiments". Chem Soc Rev 42 (5): 2186–2196. doi:10.1039/c3cs35433d. PMID 23340907. 
  3. ^ a b Bada JL, Lazcano A. Stanley L. Miller (1930-2007): A Biographical Memoir. National Academy of Sciences (USA). pp. 1–40. 
  4. ^ a b Lazcano A, Bada JL (2007). "Stanley L. Miller (1930-2007): reflections and remembrances". Orig Life Evol Biosph 38 (5): 373–381. doi:10.1007/s11084-008-9145-2. PMID 18726708. 
  5. ^ Bada JL, Lazcano A (2002). "Miller revealed new ways to study the origins of life". Nature 416 (6880): 475. doi:10.1038/416475a. PMID 11932715. 
  6. ^ a b c UCSD News Center (21 May 2007). "Father of 'Origin of Life' Chemistry at UC San Diego Dies". ucsdnews.ucsd.edu. University of California, San Diego. Retrieved 2013-07-03. 
  7. ^ Lazcano A, Bada JL (2003). "The 1953 Stanley L. Miller experiment: fifty years of prebiotic organic chemistry". Orig Life Evol Biosph 33 (3): 235–242. doi:10.1023/A:1024807125069. PMID 14515862. 
  8. ^ Bada JL, Lazcano A (2003). "Perceptions of science. Prebiotic soup-revisiting the Miller experiment". Science 300 (5620): 745–746. doi:10.1126/science.1085145. PMID 12730584. 
  9. ^ Miller SL (1986). "Current status of the prebiotic synthesis of small molecules". Chem Scr 26 (B): 5–11. PMID 11542054. 
  10. ^ Hough L, Rogers AF (1956). "Synthesis of amino-acids from water, hydrogen, methane and ammonia". J Physiol 32 (2): 28–30. PMID 13320416. 
  11. ^ Oro J (1983). "Chemical evolution and the origin of life.". Adv Space Res 3 (9): 77–94. doi:10.1016/0273-1177(83)90044-3. PMID 11542466. 
  12. ^ Basile B, Lazcano A, Oró J (1984). "Prebiotic syntheses of purines and pyrimidines". Adv Space Res 4 (12): 125–131. doi:10.1016/0273-1177(84)90554-4. PMID 11537766. 
  13. ^ Jakschitz TA, Rode BM (2012). "Chemical evolution from simple inorganic compounds to chiral peptides". Chem Soc Rev 41 (16): 5484–5489. doi:10.1039/c2cs35073d. PMID 22733315. 
  14. ^ Zahnle K, Schaefer L, Fegley B (2010). "Earth's earliest atmospheres". Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol 2 (10): a004895. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a004895. PMC 2944365. PMID 20573713. 
  15. ^ Cleaves HJ, Chalmers JH, Lazcano A, Miller SL, Bada JL (200). "A reassessment of prebiotic organic synthesis in neutral planetary atmospheres". Orig Life Evol Biosph 38 (2): 105–115. doi:10.1007/s11084-007-9120-3. PMID 18204914. 
  16. ^ Ring D, Wolman Y, Friedmann N, Miller SL (1972). "Prebiotic synthesis of hydrophobic and protein amino acids". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 69 (3): 765–768. doi:10.1073/pnas.69.3.765. PMC 426553. PMID 4501592. 
  17. ^ Wolman Y, Haverland WJ, Miller SL (1972). "Nonprotein amino acids from spark discharges and their comparison with the murchison meteorite amino acids". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 69 (4): 809–811. doi:10.1073/pnas.69.4.809. PMC 426569. PMID 16591973. 
  18. ^ Johnson AP, Cleaves HJ, Dworkin JP, Glavin DP, Lazcano A, Bada JL (2008). "The Miller volcanic spark discharge experiment". Science 322 (5900): 404. doi:10.1126/science.1161527. PMID 18927386. 
  19. ^ Parker ET, Cleaves HJ, Dworkin JP, Glavin DP, Callahan M, Aubrey A, Lazcano A, Bada, JL (2011). "Primordial synthesis of amines and amino acids in a 1958 Miller H2S-rich spark discharge experiment". Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108 (12): 5526–5531. doi:10.1073/pnas.1019191108. PMC 3078417. PMID 21422282. 
  20. ^ Keim, Brandon (October 16, 2008). "Forgotten Experiment May Explain Origins of Life". Wired Magazine. Retrieved March 22, 2011. 
  21. ^ Steigerwald, Bill (October 16, 2008). "Volcanoes May Have Provided Sparks and Chemistry for First Life". NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Retrieved March 22, 2011. 
  22. ^ Chi KR (24 May 2007). "Stanley L. Miller dies". The Scientist. Retrieved 2013-07-03. 
  23. ^ Astrobiology (6 March 2008). "Stanley L. Miller Award". astrobiology2.arc.nasa.gov. NASA. Retrieved 2013-07-03. 

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