Strange Brew Brings Chemicals to Life

Strange Brew Brings Chemicals to Life

by Cliff Pickover, Reality Carnival

Scientists recently created a mixture of simple chemicals that produced an amazing fungus-like structure!

The weird growths are made purely from inorganic materials, but they share some of the characteristics of living organisms.

Minutes after the chemicals were mixed, a marble-sized blob formed. It had a semipermeable membrane. Daughter cells began to bud off from the original cell. Wild!

Most chemical mixtures quickly settle into an unchanging state. So the fact that dynamic cell-like structures can arise spontaneously from a simple mixture is a surprise, says Jerzy Masleko of the University of Alaska in Anchorage and Peter Strizhak of the Institute of Physical Chemistry in Kiev, Ukraine, who made the discovery.

Understanding how this happens could give us clues about how life may have arisen on Earth, or even other planets, where the blends of chemicals present might be quite different from that of the early Earth."

Julius Rebek and the Creation of Life

In my book The Science of Aliens I discuss Julius Rebek's creation of life in the test tube.

Recently, MIT chemist Julius Rebek created an organic molecule that reproduces itself -- a molecule that Rebek considers a primitive form of life. Whether or not it is truly alive, it is definitely not life as we know it. Rebek's J-shaped molecule is held together by some of the same chemical bonds as proteins, DNA, and RNA -- but the molecule reproduces in a chloroform solution! (Life on earth probably evolved in water.) For those of you who are chemists, this primitive life form consists of an amino adenosine triacid ester. In a solution, Rebek's molecules can copy themselves at rates up to a dizzying million times per second.

Click here for more information on Life from Nonlife.

Maselko, J., and P. Strizhak. 2004. Spontaneous formation of cellular chemical system that sustains itself far from thermodynamic equilibrium. Journal of Physical Chemistry B 108(April 22):4937-4939.
Jerzy Maselko, Department of Chemistry, University of Alaska, Anchorage, AK 99508
Science News, Vol. 165, No. 22, May 29, 2004, p. 350.

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