Made me think of the feuding here about the substitution level of
Scientists trying to create artificial life generally work under the
assumption that life must be carbon-based, but what if a living thing
could be made from another element?
One British researcher may have proven that theory, potentially
rewriting the book of life. Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow
has created lifelike cells from metal — a feat few believed feasible.
The discovery opens the door to the possibility that there may be life
forms in the universe not based on carbon, reports New Scientist.
Even more remarkable, Cronin has hinted that the metal-based cells may
be replicating themselves and evolving.
"I am 100 percent positive that we can get evolution to work outside
organic biology," he said.
The high-functioning "cells" that Cronin has built are constructed
from large polyoxometalates derived from a range of metal atoms, like
tungsten. He gets them to assemble in bubbly spheres by mixing them in
a specialized saline solution, and calls the resultant cell-like
structures "inorganic chemical cells," or iCHELLs.
The metallic bubbles are certainly cell-like, but are they actually
alive? Cronin has made a compelling case for the comparison by
constructing the iCHELLS with a number of features that make them
function much as real cells do. For instance, by modifying the outer
oxide structure of the bubbles so that they are porous, he has
essentially built iCHELLs with membranes capable of selectively
allowing chemicals in and out according to size, much as what happens
with the walls of real cells.
Cronin's team has also created bubbles inside of bubbles, which opens
the door to the possibility of developing specialized "organelles."
Even more compelling, some of the iCHELLs are being equipped with the
ability to photosynthesize. The process is still rudimentary, but by
linking some oxide molecules to light sensitive dyes, the team has
constructed a membrane that splits water into hydrogen ions, electrons
and oxygen when illuminated — which is how photosynthesis begins in
Of course, the most compelling lifelike quality of the iCHELLs so far
is their ability to evolve. Although they aren't equipped with
anything remotely resembling DNA, and therefore can't replicate
themselves in the same way that real cells do, Cronin has nevertheless
managed to create some polyoxometalates that can use each other as
templates to self-replicate. Furthermore, he is currently embarked on
a seven-month experiment to see if iCHELLs placed in different
environments will evolve.
The early results have been encouraging. "I think we have just shown
the first droplets that can evolve," Cronin hinted.
Though the idea of a strange new metal-based form of life rapidly
evolving in a lab somewhere on Earth may sound ominous, the finding
could forever change how life is defined. It also greatly improves the
odds of life existing elsewhere in the universe, since life forms
could potentially be built from any number of different elements.
The possibilities are exciting to imagine, even if Cronin's iCHELLs
eventually fall short of full-blown living cells. His research may
have already blown the door off previous paradigms about the
conditions necessary for life to form.
My comments (from http://s33light.org/post/13590302296):
Cool. It’s a little vague or sensationalized as far as what really has
been accomplished so far. If it’s just a bubble that can be made
porous that’s a great start but I would hardly call it a ‘lifelike
cell’. If you add photosynthesis, great, but is it also being done
If we can put these cells into our brains eventually, then we will
know, literally what we are made of; atoms, ‘arrangements’, or
specific ‘relations’ of the two. I am excited that they are starting
to talk about liquid technology, as I have always had a hunch that it
is important. I would say that all life is water based even more than
carbon based, and the fact that we don’t see any organisms based on
ammonia or acetic acid instead makes me think that the capacity for
life is more specific than just requiring liquid, but the liquidity of
water I think may enable a lot of sensorimotive capacities that solid
state electronics do not. Otherwise we should see frozen forests
thriving in Antarctica, shouldn’t we? Not to oversimplify, but dry or
stiff = dead.
So what will it be? Synthetic life without water or machines that
mimic some cellular functions but are not alive? Is carbon or water
magic or is it just the throw of the dice that brought about DNA in
our neighborhood before any other molecular machine?
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