by Mark Aragona
Can life evolve from non-carbon materials? At first glance this seems highly improbable, but as with many things recently science has been proving that thinking wrong.
A research team headed by Professor Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow claim to be taking the earliest steps towards creating life from inorganic materials, heralding a possible new field in science. They have shown that they are able to create cell-like structures from metal-containing molecules and make them perform functions normally found in living cells, essentially mimicking life. Professor Cronin calls them inorganic chemical cells, or iCHELLs.
Under a microscope, iCHELLs are built just like a living cell—they have membranes that divide up the internal structure but are permeable enough to allow the passage of materials and energy.
“I’m 100% postive we can get evolution working outside organic biology,”states Cronin. His team aims to program iCHELLs to have the full range of life-like properties, such as replication and evolution. Should he be successful, this can prove to have a wide range of medical benefits, such as internal sensors or contain chemical processes on a microscopic scale.
Does this mean that we may soon see man-made artificial life forms? Not in the near future, certainly. But scientists are also suggesting that inorganic life may already be existing somewhere else in the universe.
According the New Journal of Physics, scientists have found evidence of life-like structures in space dust. Under the right conditions (say, a plasma environment), space dust can actually form helix shaped structures that behave much like organic compounds found on our world. They can even divide to create copies of the original structure, as if propagating themselves. Moreover, these new structures can also interact among themselves, causing their partners to changes and even evolve into different structures. Finally, less stable structures can also break down, leaving the fittest to survive.
Sound familiar? All of this suggest that life can exist outside our well-known carbon-based nucleotides, sugars and amino acids. The next question will be, is this inorganic basis for life as suitable or conducive for creating intelligence?