Life as we know it derives from organic compounds. Or does it? Can inorganic life exist?
Carbon is the basis for all organic compounds and thus, all life on earth. Compounds that lack carbon are considered inorganic and thus, inanimate. However, for many years scientists have speculated on the possibility of unknown lifeforms, some of which might not be organic in nature.
Recently, a team led by Professor Lee Cronin at Glasgow University demonstrated a new methodology designed to “create life from inorganic chemicals.” In other words, metal-based life.
“What we are trying do is create self-replicating, evolving, inorganic cells that would essentially be alive. You could call it inorganic biology.” ~ Professor Lee Cronin
How do you Create Inorganic Life?
The process, as reported by New Scientist, revolves around developing a self-assembling cell-like sphere.
“Cronin and his team begin by creating salts from negatively charged ions of the large metal oxides bound to a small positively charged ion such as hydrogen or sodium. A solution of this salt is squirted into another salt solution made of large, positively charged organic ions bound to small negative ones.”
“When the two salts meet, they swap parts and the large metal oxides end up partnered with the large organic ions. The new salt is insoluble in water: it precipitates as a shell around the injected solution.”
These shells are called iCHELLs. Cronin has managed to create internal membranes within the iCHELLs, allowing materials and energy to flow through them in ways that are similar to those used by organic cells. But he doesn’t intend to stop there.
“I am 100 per cent positive that we can get evolution to work outside organic biology.” ~ Professor Lee Cronin
Cronin wants to create “fully inorganic self-replicating entities.” In other words, inorganic life. This is no easy task and many scientists are skeptical, pointing out that the iCHELLs will never be “alive” without DNA or something similar which could enable self-replication and evolution.
Currently, he’s subjecting the iCHELLs to tubes filled with chemicals at different pH levels. The goal is to ascertain whether or not the cells can self-modify in order to adapt to different environments. While he hasn’t prepared a formal statement yet, early results appear promising.
“I think we have just shown the first droplets that can evolve.” ~ Professor Lee Cronin
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
If successful, Cronin’s work could eventually be used “in all sorts of applications in medicine, as sensors or to confine chemical reactions.” Also, it would help us to search for new types of life on this planet…and elsewhere.
“There is every possibility that there are life forms out there which aren’t based on carbon. On Mercury, the materials are all different. There might be a creature made of inorganic elements.” ~ Tadashi Sugawara, University of Tokyo, Japan