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Plasma Comes Alive 267

j_hirny writes "So, it seems that the widely acclaimed theory of how life begun, during hundreds of millions of years is, at least, not the only one which is being researched. As New Scientist report, a physicist managed to create life-alike beings made of plasma. They can replicate, grow and duplicate. They don't have amino-acids or DNA strains, of course, yet they may reveal something new about life's beginnings."
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Plasma Comes Alive

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  • overused (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:35AM (#7011946)
    I for one, will welcome these new Plasma Blob overlords. Now, continue with informative comments, dear slashdotters.
    • Save the plasma! Boycott firefighters!

      Of course, that could be going to an extreme...

    • Re:overused (Score:4, Funny)

      by ameoba ( 173803 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @02:56PM (#7012928)
      I, for one, welcome our new cliche overlords.
  • So... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Brainboy ( 310252 ) <iamchillin.gmail@com> on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:38AM (#7011965) Journal
    So how does this help us discover plasma weaponry technology? I've played enough first-person shooters, i know its possible!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:39AM (#7011967)
    ...but will not sell more records than Frampton.
  • So what if they could do this to biological materials? Would it be possible to create cells from living things?
  • It's a fact (Score:2, Funny)

    by papasui ( 567265 )
    that living gas blobs exist, just watch the Anna Nicole Smith show.
  • Neat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bobulusman ( 467474 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:43AM (#7011993)
    Sanduloviciu says this electric spark caused a high concentration of ions and electrons to accumulate at the positively charged electrode, which spontaneously formed spheres (Chaos, Solitons & Fractals, vol 18, p 335). Each sphere had a boundary made up of two layers - an outer layer of negatively charged electrons and an inner layer of positively charged ions.

    Plasma cells are an interesting idea, but I doubt it's time to rip up the old textbooks yet. The 'nucleus' was only a collection of gas atoms. It kind of sounds like the researchers had to jump through hoops to get these 'cells' to grow or divide. Still, it might give us some new insights.
    • Re:Neat (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rde ( 17364 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:51AM (#7012034)
      I'm forced to agree. Particularly when I note his argument that they can survive at lower temperatures, even though they need to be nice and toasty to be created in the first place. So what? Irrespective of the temperature Argon cells can survive at, I really doubt [DR]NA would survive such a creation process. Unless it was that sort of thing that glued the amino acids together in the first place... nah. Probably not.
      • What makes you think [DR]NA needed to exist at this stage of development? That could develop later.
    • by srichman ( 231122 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:57AM (#7012065)
      Sorry, I think your first assessment is right. There are few new insights here. The phenomenon described in the article sounds roughly like the formation, "mitosis," and migration of bubbles in a lava lamp. Okay, you can call these things cells. That's somewhat reasonable. But the researcher said, "the emergence of such spheres seems likely to be a prerequisite for biochemical evolution." That sounds like serious pop science quakery to me. It is only correct with the loosest interpretation of "prerequisite," "bio," and/or "evolution," and even then it's highly misleading.
    • You might be right, but you have the advantage of hindsight - after all, all us DNA/RNA based living beings are here to look at this thing. The guy is saying that he found objects that fit the criteria we have for living cells. Now apart from the statement that he thought this had to be a prerequesite for our form of live to appear, I think he's got something interesting.

      I mean this is exactly the idea that Alien's was exploiting: silicate based life form instead of carbon (for those who don't know sili

      • Re:Neat (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Bingo Foo ( 179380 )
        The guy is saying that he found objects that fit the criteria we have for living cells.

        Then perhaps we should think carefully about whether we should use a definition of life that admits such phenomena. Aristotle's definition of "man" [google.com] needed to be revised when a counterexample was pointed out.

  • Plasma Aliens (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zarkonnen ( 662709 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:44AM (#7012001) Homepage

    This is interesting in the light of speculation about life-forms living on the surface of suns. (As described, for example, in David Brin's [davidbrin.com] Sundiver.)

    Considering that a the surface of a sun itself consists of plasma, it's not improbable that spheres like in the experiment get formed there all the time. The question is whether there is any way those spheres could attain a more complex form of internal organisation, or if they remain stuck at that basic level.

    • Wheelers [amazon.com], by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen is another excellent SciFi book that deals with a whole host of alien species, plasma beings that live in the sun among them.

      A very good/exciting read. I really recommend this book!


      • Re:Plasma Aliens (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vidarh ( 309115 )
        In "Starmaker", Olaf Stapledon, 1937, wrote "Stars are best regarded as living organisms, but organisms which are physiologically and psychologically of a very peculiar kind. The outer and middle layers of a mature star apparently consists of 'tissues' woven of currents of incandescent gases. These gasous tissues live and maintain the stellar consciousness by intercepting part of the immense flood of energy that wells from the congested and furiously active interior of the star". So plasma as living cells i
    • The question is whether there is any way those aminoacids could attain a more complex form of internal organisation, or if they remain stuck at that basic level.
    • Also, Robert Forward's [fantasticfiction.co.uk] Dragon's Egg and Starquake.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:44AM (#7012004)
    My florescent desk lamp has been looking at me funny.
  • Ob: (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:47AM (#7012017)
    "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it."

    Well, potentially life-like, anyway. Intriguing.

  • Overrated in a way (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ramk13 ( 570633 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:49AM (#7012024)
    I don't really see how these are cells like biological cells. It just a bunch of particles following electrostatics. Just because it resembles what biological cells do in a few ways doesn't mean that it's the 'beginning of life' or anything like that.

    Similar things happen with particles in water. If you go to any water treatment plant and look at the flocculation tanks you'll see tons (literally) of particles colliding each other, forming new particles. They have natural organic matter and other crud absorbed to their surfaces, and if coniditions are right, they can break apart (too much shear).

    It's interesting still, in the sense that anything that self assembles usually minimizes the total energy of a system in a 'neat' way, but I wouldn't rewrite the theory on how life begin, because of it.
    • by Blue Stone ( 582566 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @12:36PM (#7012253) Homepage Journal
      We need to redefine what constitutes "life" to avoid silly mistakes like this, occuring from a flawed definition.

      I propose "5. The ability to wear a propellor-beanie."

      That should sort the wheat from the chaff!

    • Underrated too (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 2nd Post! ( 213333 ) <gundbear@ p a c b e ll.net> on Saturday September 20, 2003 @12:51PM (#7012332) Homepage
      I think a lot of people are missing some of the implications too.

      Before true life can occur, there needs, I think, to be a process, a method, a life cycle, where something like a plasma ball, a soap bubble, or a fatty lipid ball, can be produced and propagated. You need to be able to, in the absence of real life, create an environment that encourages, protects, and shields the life-activity from what happens outside the life activity.

      So plasma balls that can cleanly separate inside reactions from outside reactions is important, all the more so if they are self assembling from nothing; given enough time and random variables it's likely that one or two of them will form with something *interesting* trapped inside, something that will further enhance the operation of the plasma ball, and over time that may "evolve" into something a lot like life.

      But first you need the plasma balls to trap the "interesting" bits first.
  • Not! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:50AM (#7012028) Journal
    I'd consider that one of the definitions of "life" could be "a pattern that attempts its own continuance despite destructive obstacles".

    Reproduction is simply a continuance of that pattern. Think about it:

    1) loud noise == cat runs to preserve itself.
    2) War == baby boomer generation.

    ad nasueum. What we have is a curiousity of bare physics, nothing more.
    • Re:Not! (Score:4, Funny)

      by NickFitz ( 5849 ) <slashdot@nic k f i t z .co.uk> on Saturday September 20, 2003 @12:00PM (#7012078) Homepage
      War == baby boomer generation

      Yes, war is hell.

    • Re:Not! (Score:2, Insightful)

      So you can't tell if a "pattern" is alive unless you expose it to a "destructive obstacle"?

      Bacteria will take no better attempts to survive than a forest fire. One is considered alive the other is not. How do you tell which one by your definition?

      On the other hand, an electric current (a pattern of moving electrons if you will) through a coil will fiercely attempt its continuance when confronted by a destructive obstacle - you will get a nice spark if you break the circuit. Again, we don't consider electr
      • Bacteria will take no better attempts to survive than a forest fire. - How do you tell which one by your definition?

        After decades of treating infections with antibiotics, we now have bacteria that are extremely resistant (and some completely immune) to the more common medications.

        After centuries of fighting fires by dumping water on them, most fires can still be put out with water (certain chemical fires being the only exception).
    • So Lemmings are not alive?
  • by JayBlalock ( 635935 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:52AM (#7012044)
    Why didn't the article say more about under what exact conditions the plasmoids replicated and communicated? I mean, you can say they "duplicated themselves" when all you really did was cut one in half.

    Whether they were doing these things spontaneously (or in response to only environmental stimulii) would make a huge difference in how big this is.

  • by beacher ( 82033 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @11:54AM (#7012051) Homepage
    "the ability to replicate, to communicate information, and to metabolise and grow. He found that the spheres could replicate by splitting into two. Under the right conditions they also got bigger, taking up neutral argon atoms and splitting them into ions and electrons to replenish their boundary layers.
    Finally, they could communicate information by emitting electromagnetic energy, making the atoms within other spheres vibrate at a particular frequency. The spheres are not the only self-organising systems to meet all of these requirements. But they are the first gaseous "cells".

    Is a form of eletronic harmonic resonance communication? Is breaking apart in two and merging together reproduction? Given that water has surface tension (boundry layer), can communicate (ooh it vibrates), and reproduce (really vague definition here), water's alive by this vague definition.

    Sanduloviciu may have found something interesting, maybe he didn't, but the wordplay and generalizations don't cut it.
    • Life is a process. Living organisms are really just extremely complicated machines. Ingest fuel, seek fuel, expel byproduct. With most life forms we know, this is done by giving the power supply (stomachs, basically) means to gather it's own fuel.

      What's happening here is essentially the same thing, it's just in a way we've not seen before.
    • I agree they're stretching quite a bit. For one, communication isn't happening unless some action is taken (or considered) in response to a message. Vibrating is not an intelligent or even an instinctual response; it's a basic physical property.

      the high temperature needed to form doesn't seem like a major issue since at the very least volcanos and geysers could provide such an environment.

      The plasma bubbles are interesting, but they don't seem to have even a wild guess about how they could have led to m

  • "It's life, Jim ... but not as we know it."
    • No, that sounds more like Bones. Spock would say something like "Fascinating, this seems to be a non-organic life form."
      • No, actually in the episode where Spock got the flying fried egg stuck to his back and ended up temporarily blind because Bones used that really bright light to kill the thing, Spock said those exact words after analyzing one of them with his tricorder.

        Besides, in the song "Star Trekkin'" by The Firm, you hear Spock's voice saying "It's life Jim, but not as we know it, not as we know it, not as we know it, it's life Jim, but not as we know it, not as we know it, Captain."
  • by Krapangor ( 533950 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @12:15PM (#7012153) Homepage
    if it's published in a journal with a title containing the word "chaos" then it's rubbish propability p is increased by

    Some people even throw an integration over the spelling errors in the publication into this formula. (Seiberg's famous bad spelling trace integral.)

  • by Salis ( 52373 ) <howard.salisNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 20, 2003 @12:16PM (#7012161) Journal
    It's viscous, it's a psuedoliquid! It can migrate down gravitational potentials! It can replicate itself by splitting (and even ostracize OTHER forms of polymers who try to get in between)! It vibrates, oh it vibrates! It absorbs water, it's drinking, it's drinking!

    MY GOD, IT'S ALIVE! ...
    (Yes, this is a joke)

    Physics itself produces some amazing phenomenom. While it might be cutesy that some plasma is splitting and vibrating synchronously (everything vibrates, sigh. Lasers vibrate synchronously), it is not 'Alive'.
  • what the difference between replicate and duplicate is?
  • alive? (Score:5, Funny)

    by stevebob2019 ( 601185 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @12:18PM (#7012168) Homepage
    Dammit, now PETA is going to come after my new big screen.
  • by Dr. Smeegee ( 41653 ) * on Saturday September 20, 2003 @12:33PM (#7012246) Homepage Journal
    Spider Robinson posited this kind of life in Telempath [baen.com], a way-neato "vengence is stupid" story filled with the usual Robinson themes: Brotherly love, Tolerance and Good Weed.
  • by Illserve ( 56215 )
    I could do the same with oil bubbles floating on water and a toothpick. Didn't know I was creating life, wow.

    What's the title you put in front of your name to designate deity status?
  • Ball Lightning (Score:5, Interesting)

    by God of Lemmings ( 455435 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @01:51PM (#7012654)
    Gee. Why am I not surprised by this. Perhaps because I've heard of ball lightning ages ago. I find it odd that this article on Sanduloviciu doesn't even mention anything about it either.

    More interesting references.
    http://www.amasci.com/tesla/balligntn .txt
    http://www.eskimo.com/~billb/tesla/ballgtn.h tml
  • MAN in LAB COAT: Throw the switch!

    IGOR throws the switch.

    MAN in LAB COAT: Its alive...ALIIIIIIIVE!!!!!!!!
  • by fygment ( 444210 ) on Saturday September 20, 2003 @02:29PM (#7012809)
    ... outer layers of ions with hot gas trapped inside. Actually, only simulated politicians since in real ones the hot gas is rarely trapped inside for long.

  • Proof, Hal Clement.

    Kron ownz0rs.
  • While everyone and their mothers are claiming fake (which it could be), this could revolutionise the SETL (life, not intelligence) because gas giants would be ideal for the source of life on this level, having both lots of gases and energy.

    Would be damn interesting if living organisms of this sort were to be found on Jupiter, Saturn or even Titan, would be trying to communicate with them on a level which they would understand.
  • Fire can also grow and replicate though I suppose it doesn't communicate without intervention.

    Is it alive?
  • Probably doesn't have anything directly to do with the origin of life on earth (perhaps life on stars, if there is life on stars). But it does make an important point. Some sort of way of separating one organism from another seems to be critical for evolution to occur. This was once thought to constitute a kind of chicken/egg problem. But it turns out that membranes of various sorts, with strikingly pseudo-cellular behavior, form relatively easily out of a variety of materials and under a variety of condtio

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.