Although the exact mechanisms of origin of life is not yet fully known it is helpful to know what we might see (by modern scientific dating) 4.4 to 4 billion years ago while taking a walk along the shore of this planets first ocean. We could predict there would be the CO2 atmosphere typical of a lifeless planet with high concentration of volcanic gasses. Sunlight might at times be dimmed by clouds, dust and smoke to a reddish color like seen at sunset where light travels a long distance sideways through lesser amount to gain this filtered color. A heavy asteroid bombardment 3.9 billion years ago may have vaporized the ocean which soon later reformed. Sunlight returned to grow stronger then 3.8 billion years ago there were simple cells called prokaryotes (lack cell nucleus) possibly first powered by simple Reverse Krebs Cycle photosynthesis possibly in part photocatalyzed by common mineral in common at the time dust and clay deposits.
Underwater hydrothermal vent chemistry research shows heat and pressure forms important starter molecules including amphiphilic molecules that self-assemble into vesicles. Surface volcanic eruptions would be producing intense lightning storms that create among other things amino acids.
Lightning storm during eruption of Chaiten Volcano, southern Chile.
After raining out of the atmosphere, volcanic molecules would be washed into lakes and streams then flow into the ocean where they concentrate on the shoreline. Wetting and drying cycles would then polymerize the amino acids into proteins to (when wet) form a protein plasma similar to what is inside of cells. This would be an ideal incubating environment for the self-assembling cellular organelles. Directional currents would allow cellular components that require a specific environment to be produced in one location then storms wash this off the shoreline to another environment suitable for formation of another type of organelle.
The next best thing to being there to explore the prebiotic environment in an aquarium for molecules that were likely in the ocean at that time. Plan it to be 1/4 to at most 1/2 full. To make good use of area and see sedimentation one corner is deep ocean while other shoreline area made by placing bricks, flat stones or gravel along two sides. Used below is redstone (also called brownstone a type of slate) that has depressions made by small dinosaurs to form the coves where molecules collect. Any material with similar contour and contrasting color can be used.
Bubbles from an airstone provides the churning water turbulence to produce sea foam along with currents and some wave action. Large storms and hurricanes are simulated by periodically stirring without creating a tidal wave that wipes the beach clean of what was gathering there. Although optional, airstone on end of rigid tube is also a convenient stirrer. Make of length and weight (like glass pipette or stainless tube) where airstone stays down in corner on its own when hose on other end is rest on top of opposite corner. This additional bubble churning would be present especially in surface storm waves that carry them down deep with the smallest bubbles brought down deeper by subsurface currents that can give them days of contact time. Organic molecules in the chemical environment are attracted to then collect on the gas/liquid interface with that load resurfacing with the bubble along with what else others deliver.
The large scale dynamics of a low-pressure area is a phenomena where Coriolis forces are significant. In the Northern Hemisphere the direction of movement around a low-pressure area is counterclockwise. This does not influence a small in proportion to the Earth volume of water as in a sink or aquarium or toilet where water is here sent at an angle determining spin. Which direction the model is stirred is not predicted to influence outcome but in what this is modeling Coriolis forces produce a direction to account for that is determined by which hemisphere you live in.
To the water we add organic molecules. Membrane forming amphiphiles as were found to be produced by hydrothermal vents found in soap and egg yolk. A box of Jell-O gelatine and the egg white (albumen protein) to add structural proteins that would have formed where there are amino acid molecules present which through shoreline wetting and drying cycles can form peptide bonds. A small pinch of meat tenderizer (protein enzyme) is a protein catalyst with an active site that cuts other proteins into shorter pieces. This is why when pineapple or other substance containing a protein that can do this is added Jell-O will not gel. Add to decrease size of protein strands to prevent coagulation. Or do not add so that in some chemical environments proteins will tend to coagulate to form a more solid plasma.
After a mumber of hours the airstone can be turned off then a spot cleaned on the side of the glass to look down the model beach to see what the "protein skimming" removed from the water that is now washed up on the shore. This is a photograph of strawberry-kiwi (pink) flavor Jello with small amount of egg white (albumen protein).
Proteins separate out slightly differently, as seen from above in a cove.
On the left below you can see the side of the aquarium glass. Dullness is from collecting airborne particles given off by the airstone bubbler "spray".
The onion has a genome larger than ours and is rich in RNA and DNA. The odor is strong, as would be bacteria that quickly multiplies where peas or other source is used. Use kitchen blender on high a good 15 minutes then strain. Coffee filter step may be added. To wash through more cell parts fill filter with water several times while stirring.
A good teaspoon of dirty motor oil from a four cycle Briggs & Stratton 5hp roto-tiller motor is here added to show some of its properties in this environment. In present day oil in this concentration is toxic but life required what it can in time be broken down into.
Below, plasma washed from shore is trapped in oil inside compartments (water in oil vesicle) that stay together in the center of small oil slick. The center is similar in form to a cell nucleus but in two dimensions instead of usual 3D compartmentalized sphere. The thin slick around it shows visible a surface membrane not visible with other membranes that would be present like this but not visible.
Turning on airstone distributes smaller sizes.
What is likely an entangled mat of onion DNA is spinning counterclockwise. Oil is here being attracted to but does not spread into.
As was demonstrated, forces present in the ocean separate and concentrate organic molecules to form a plasma. This can still be seen in present day after ocean storms bring large quantities of sea foam to shore. Even though organic molecules are well dispersed in an ocean sized volume of water skimming brings them together where tides would then provide regular wetting and drying cycles to help induce peptide bonds.
Membrane forming molecules are predicted to self-assemble into a protective layer on a mass of plasma as it will do to a cell size amount. This should help prevent dehydration between tidal cycles but has not been confirmed by experiment.
To verify this experiment works in a early Earth CO2 environment half a trash bag of auto exhaust (handy source of primordial atmosphere) can be circulated inside tank. A piece of glass or plastic works as a lid. With CO2 being heavier than air it tends to stay inside like it were liquid. Can verify it is still present (apparatus works) with small flame lowered in that will go out when it reaches the CO2 layer.
To help search for precursors of cellular life we can experiment with the self-assembly of cellular organelles. Together, organelles accomplish cellular division. The large genome they together replicate helps maintain their comfortable environment, a way to get around in other environments. A DNA based genome is useless without the organelles that produce them. Therefore within range of microscopes we can begin to examine this plasma for formation of membrane bound organelles found in present cells. Information in this area gained from ocean models like this is also valuable, please send results.
Important organelles to look for and their function are explained in this from Wikipedia:
We cannot yet conclude exactly how life began, but we can conclude that in a very chemically active ocean chemistry the beaches may have been less than pristine. Where that happens today it is quickly consumed by plants and bacteria to from there go further up the food chain to become the crabs and seaweed we now see on the beaches. But long ago before cellular life began this would have instead remained unconsumed. Once it was, the cells began to consume each other.
In origins science there is no one single theory or hypothesis that might win above all others they are together useful. There are some that directly compete to be a plausible "world" including "Protein World" or "Metabolism World" with "RNA World" doing very well yet might not be able to exist on its own without metabolism to produce the RNA nucleotides and proteins that metabolism helps produce that would help maintain fluid chemistry. At some point photosynthesis began which makes research in that area useful no matter whether the first cell used it or was later aquired. From abundant molecular organelles being first established cells could have quickly taken hold inside sheets of mica and other environments, where here there would not be one single cell all others came from yet they would share organelles and whatever genome they might have.
Prochlorons are very primitive prokaryotes with many photosynthetic membranes on top of each other and genome inside. It is here hard to tell whether they are a cell or an organelle. The chloroplast organelle is steps up in membrane efficiency and likewise genome replicated.
Photoelectric membranes might by electrical force cause movement. Interesting water-soluble pigments are found in red-cabbage, apple skin, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, plums, poppies, cornflowers, flowers, grapes, and more. Green plants may have chloroplasts and chlorophyll to experiment with.
Red Cabbage has an interesting pigment that also acts as a pH indicator. Clear solution isolated by covering with water then heating until color stops getting darker. May be used to tint aquarium water. Or note color change when a drop of indicator is released right above surface. Can be used as blender water for other cell types like onion to show healthy starting pH of their cells. Color range of red cabbage pigment and more detail is here:
To better detect what is trapped inside: First form starting vesicles in red cabbage either clear or to trap organelles strained from blender. Their good health can in part be judged by color remaining the same as when strained. Our cells have a narrow range centered around 7.4 but other kinds of cells vary in pH. When blending raw what is strained would be it's starting ay be health color. From there it will decompose into another color, limits for what is being experimented with. Possibly same color after straining, should remain in center. Where acidic bacteria may have digested the organelles, but that is open to future experimentation.
When water becomes fouled, without disturbing the shoreline drain with siphon. Add new water possibly with another kind of membrane forming substances to see if it then builds on the membrane to form multilayer protoprochlorons. One membrane may not be efficient, but many on top of each other greatly increases how many light photons each one can collect.
A glass or plastic top can be placed over aquarium. This will seal in odors and added gasses. Help keep out bacteria.
Note: Never put an aquarium pump inside the aquarium. It will quickly become wet inside then be a hard to notice shock hazard. For safe circulation of either air or water in a covered aquarium a $15 "Aqua Lifter AW-20 by TOM" works very well.
The Origin Of Life Aquarium Experiments by Gary S. Gaulin may be copied as needed for educational use.