Falsifying Vitalism

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•  Urea as an example of a compound that is produced by living organisms but can also be artificially synthesised

Vitalism was a doctrine that dictated that organic molecules could only be synthesised by living systems

  • It was believed that living things possessed a certain “vital force” needed to make organic molecules
  • Hence organic compounds were thought to possess a non-physical element lacking from inorganic molecules

Vitalism as a theory has since been disproven with the discovery that organic molecules can be artificially synthesised

  • In 1828, Frederick Woehler heated an inorganic salt (ammonium cyanate) and produced urea
  • Urea is a waste product of nitrogen metabolism and is eliminated by the kidneys in mammals
  • The artificial synthesis of urea demonstrates that organic molecules are not fundamentally different to inorganic molecules

Synthesis of Urea – Artificial versus Biological

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