Concept 26 RNA was the first genetic molecule.

Stanley Miller Thomas Cech Stanley Miller and Harold Urey demonstrated that organic molecules can be synthesized under prebiotic conditions. Thomas Cech and Sidney Altman discovered that RNA can have enzymatic activities. For this discovery, they shared the 1989 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Stanley Lloyd Miller (1930-2007)

Stanley Miller

Stanley Miller was born in Oakland, California. According to Miller, a scientific career was an easy choice to make since he grew up in the era of scientific discoveries.

Miller graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1951 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry. He then went to the University of Chicago to do graduate work. He attended a seminar Harold Urey gave on the origins of the solar system. Urey presented the idea of organic molecules being synthesized in a primitive Earth atmosphere. When Miller was looking for a thesis project, he remembered this idea and approached Urey. Initially reluctant to put a graduate student on such a risky project, Urey agreed to a six-month trial. Miller designed an apparatus and used it to simulate the conditions on Earth before life appeared. Once the conditions were worked out, Miller quickly got results and synthesized many of the simple organic molecules necessary for life. Miller published his results in Science in 1953; his name was the only one on the paper. Urey did not want his name on the paper as he felt that Miller did all the work.

After graduating in 1954, Miller did a post-doc at the California Institute of Technology. From 1955-1960 he was an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Columbia University. He then accepted a position in the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, San Diego where he was a full professor. He co-authored the book, The Origin of Life on Earth. His research interests focused on pre-biotic synthesis of nucleotides as well as alternative backbones to ribose phosphate in the first genetic material of the pre-RNA world.

factoid Did you know ?

Harold Urey was Stanley Miller's second Ph.D. advisor. His first, Edward Teller, was a supporter of the development of the hydrogen bomb. After the war, Teller moved to the University of California to set up the Radiation Laboratory at Livermore.


Although Miller's experiment proved that organic molecules can be made in a pre-biotic world, scientists still aren't sure how the pieces were put together to produce 'life.' What do you think?