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If you could have the answer to any question in science, what would you ask?

This morning I received an email from a professor at Harvard (who’s currently one of my top grad school choices) that she would like to talk to me over the phone sometime this week. After much flailing of happiness, I also had to answer one preliminary question that I enjoyed so much that I had to share it with all of you:

If you could have the answer to any question in biology, what would you ask?

I would have to ask “How did life originate?” It’s probably not particularly original, but it’s simply too fascinating to ignore. We have plenty of hypotheses about the origin of life, but I would love to know exactly which one is correct. What was the biochemical process that slowly took inorganic molecules to the first cell? Are our hypotheses about an RNA world correct? Were there other “life-like” systems totally different than the cells we know today that didn’t withstand the test of time? Could this same process conceivably take place on other planets?

I guess I’m cheating a bit by asking a question that ultimately leads to many more questions, but such is the nature of science, right?

This question isn’t exactly something I would want to personally research – I’m good at chemistry, but not passionate enough about it to devote my whole life to organic and biochem. I still find it very interesting, probably because it’s human nature to wonder “why are we here?” And as an atheist, I’m always looking for the scientific explanation for things. Is there a naturalistic way that life came about on its own? Or are more “creative” ideas involving aliens or gods really true? I doubt the latter, but heck, if that really did happen, I’d want to know!

I suppose in a way it’s tangentially related to my interests in evolution. I often hear people (falsely) claiming that since scientists can’t explain the origin of life, evolution must be false. It would be nice to be able to go, “Um, actually, here’s the natural way life did come to be” and whip out a flowchart from hammerspace. Though I doubt that would convince everyone – we all know how much scientific facts affect most creationists – but at least I’d feel a bit more intellectually fulfilled.

I know everyone here isn’t a biologist, so I’ll propose the question to you a little more vaguely: If you could have the answer to any question in science, what would you ask?