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What is Primordial Soup?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Primordial soup is a theoretical mixture of organic compounds which may have given rise to life on Earth. The primordial soup theory is used to explain how living organisms appeared on Earth, and it appears to be the most plausible scientific explanation arrived at thus far.

When the Earth first formed, it did not contain any organic material. Yet, here we are, billions of years later, demonstrating that at some point, inorganic material turned into organic material. This process is known as "abiogenesis," and it would theoretically be extremely difficult.

Conditions on Earth in its early years were very different than they are now. The atmosphere contained no oxygen, and it was rich in things like hydrogen, ammonia, methane, and water. According to the primordial soup theory, these substances were primed to produce amino acids, which would have been able to combine to create organic material which could have eventually given rise to life. In order for this to occur, there needed to be a catalyst; amino acids did not emerge spontaneously.

Research suggests that lightning or heat may have triggered the formation of amino acids from the inorganic compounds in the Earth's environment, generating primordial soup and setting the stage for the development of living organisms. In 1953, the publication of the famous Miller-Urey Experiment, in which researchers replicated the conditions and managed to produce amino acids, generated a great deal of support for this theory. The researchers found that when they sealed the components of the Earth's early atmosphere in glass flasks, heated the materials, and generated electric shocks, amino acids did indeed emerge.

Life on Earth didn't leap from primordial soup to complex organisms. The process would have been very gradual, as the acids increased in complexity and joined with each other in new ways. As living organisms emerged, they also had a direct impact on the environment and subsequently their own evolution, especially when organisms started photosynthesizing and producing oxygen as a byproduct. The production of oxygen changed the atmosphere so radically that the conditions which first created life on Earth would never be able to be replicated in the modern natural environment.

Support for the concept of a primordial soup which served as an incubator for life comes from several experiments, along with extensive research on geologic samples which can provide clues to what the Earth's atmosphere was like in the planet's early years. As researchers have discovered, amino acids are precursors to nucleic acids, which act as the building blocks of life. Nucleic acids are constantly changing and adapting, and periodically they recombine to form something entirely new.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All The Science researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By mvilmos67 — On Mar 05, 2018

Stanley Miller didn't know the background of his experiment, but I know it. It has two parts: photosynthesis and burning for 4 million years continuously since it works in living cells.

By anon963396 — On Jul 29, 2014

Maybe I am missing something here but the experiment done by Miller-Urey, which has now been discredited by secular scientists, still involved an intelligent designer, namely Miller-Urey.

Miller-Urey needed to be present in order to make sure to develop the just-right combination of elemental ingredients and environmental controls. This experiment provided evidence that the building blocks of life can actually be created, but isn’t that a proof for an intelligent creator rather than a natural process?

By anon334159 — On May 10, 2013

But the Miller-Urey Experiment only produced very simple amino acids and the conditions had to be restricted. This experiment could not explain more complex organisms and more important, it wasn't able to explain reproduction.

By anon307427 — On Dec 05, 2012

So you don't believe in science but yet it much easier to believe a god did it.

What is the single way of find out anything about life science? How can people be so closed minded and believe a god created all this. If god created it, then who created god? And if you say god was always here, you still don't explain where your god came from. It's like trying to solve a mystery with a mystery.

God or gods have always been nothing more then a placeholder. I can't see how this could have happen. so it must be god, but using your way of thinking then the question come back to who created god. It's completely illogical to even think a god created all this without one single piece of proof or back up for any of the claims in the bible.

By anon306101 — On Nov 28, 2012

How about the prokaryotic cells being eaten by the others?

By carpusdiem — On Oct 17, 2010

to anon119006: What observable science are you referring to? the macro? GR no doubt. Observable science in the micro, quantum mechanics, is complete and utter chaos. Chaos is the ruler of the universe and always will be.

You seem to be talking about ID or creationism which is not science, but a belief system, and without any empirical evidence is a "moot point."

By anon119006 — On Oct 16, 2010

The biggest miracle of all is the accidental non related events must come together just to get to the starting point of humans. A big bang? From a star?

Start evolving hydrogen? Set the cosmic background radiation constant?

Build planet earth, with its moon and atmosphere, water cycle, tectonics, gravity, etc.?

Then you have to get the first group of cells to come to life in an accidental Frankenstein soup. Then move out of the soup? Now there's life and it has to evolve? The fine tuning of nature, people and animals, and the universe as a whole. When you look at everything you would expect chaos to be the ruler of the universe but that's not what observable science shows.

It would take a mathematics genius to come up with the odds of this occurring by just throwing the dice. Each of these events could be estimated to occur to the 10ths of powers to factor. I'm sure it would be like hitting the power ball lottery every week for 10 years. You can factor as many years as you want into the equation, but it just isn't logical to look at from a purely mathematical point of view.

By anon106199 — On Aug 24, 2010

thank you. my homework was too difficult and this page changed all that.

By anon49675 — On Oct 22, 2009

very helpful. thank you.

By carpusdiem — On Sep 21, 2009

No scientific discipline requires its submissions be accompanied by a statement of belief. Creationists statement of belief is a conclusion fixed in stone. A Creationist is not free to alter his theories should the evidence contradict them. Instead they make up fanciful tales as a "water vapor canopy" surrounding the Earth prior to the great flood, the creation of starlight in transit, and the hydrological sorting of fossils during the great flood. The beliefs of scientists, or for that matter evolutionists, are not etched in stone, and can be changed, so they can only be classed as beliefs in transit. There is not one shred of scientific evidence for creativity!

By anon45834 — On Sep 20, 2009

What do you mean by saying the whole point of science is to negate both evolution and creation? I disagree whatever you mean. Many scientists might truly wish they could and actually try to negate creationism, but that is not the purpose of true science. To claim such a thing shows your personal bias. As I'm sure you know, the word science comes from the Latin word meaning "knowledge". Science is the search for knowledge regardless of whether it may lead toward creationism or toward evolution. Yes, creationists take the anti-religious implications of Darwinism very seriously because Darwinism does not fit with God's Word. Plus, as this article shows, Darwinism does not make sense. It isn't even logical. We're here so that proves evolution? No, there might be a totally different explanation for the fact that we do indeed exist. But these guys expect us to just fall at their feet and say "Oh, well you're a scientist so I guess you know." As I said, it is insulting that they think we are that stupid!

By carpusdiem — On Sep 17, 2009

I find Creationists fight tooth and claw, and with such fury, when whatever they believe in might be taken away from them! The whole point of science is to negate both Evolutionists and Creationists.

By anon45359 — On Sep 16, 2009

Amazing. What logic! Here we are, he says, so obviously that's proof that it happened. With expert Darwinists like this, who needs logic? I guess these guys think we're dumber than than they realize. Actually, that is quite an insult. The whole point of science is to find out how it happened and abiogenesis does not hold much promise in figuring that out. The logical conclusion is that life was created because wherever we see specified complexity and information in our human experience, it *always*, without exception, is the result of intelligence and not chance. But hey, Darwinists are men of great faith. Gotta respect 'em for that. No matter how wild and difficult it seems, they "know" it happened by chance because, hey, here we are! --tj

By anon45146 — On Sep 14, 2009

I believe strongly that God created the universe, and no matter how much scientists try to prove that wrong, I don't think they'll succeed.-- KIKAY.

By anon44990 — On Sep 12, 2009

In the beginning earth had hydrogen, ammonia, methane and water. I always thought water (H2O) had hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Where did water come from? Ujjal

By anon44989 — On Sep 12, 2009

Yaya I just wonder what the soup would taste like?

By anon44901 — On Sep 11, 2009

I love this site! Thanks so much for creating and maintaining it.

By carpusdiem — On Sep 11, 2009

To-anon44876: It is strange stuff. But how about this! Everything is already done. Our Universe, all alternate Universes, all time, past, present and future. But that means space and time are illusions? Could be, so says theoretical physicist, Julian Barbour. We live in a static universe in which time and motion are nothing but illusions. And we may be immortal.

By anon44890 — On Sep 11, 2009

Just saying God Did it! Works for me.

By anon44876 — On Sep 11, 2009

It is self evident that the earth came from somewhere. It is just as resonable a scientific assumption to hypothesize that all the organic life we see evidence of just condensed out of the ether the same way the earth did. There is no need for science fiction, which is all the primordial soup hypothesis is. If fiction is to explain where everything came from, then it just all appeared just like it is today. The primordial soup theory violates every law of thermodynamics, every law of chemistry, all the laws of probablility, all laws of information science and all observable biological principles. Everything just appearing by a quantum fluctuation of nothing is a bit hard to swallow also, but I suppose with a little sugar, everything eventually goes down.

By anon44854 — On Sep 11, 2009

It was almost prophetic that I told my daughter only yesterday, I'd look up the Internet for information on the origin of unicellular organisms. Honestly I couldn't have explained it better. Thanks a lot!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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