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Researcher Builds Life-Like Cells Made of Metal 259

Sven-Erik writes "Could living things that evolved from metals be clunking about somewhere in the universe? In a lab in Glasgow, UK, one man is intent on proving that metal-based life is possible. He has managed to build cell-like bubbles from giant metal-containing molecules and has given them some life-like properties. He now hopes to induce them to evolve into fully inorganic self-replicating entities. 'I am 100 per cent positive that we can get evolution to work outside organic biology,' says Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow. His building blocks are large 'polyoxometalates' made of a range of metal atoms — most recently tungsten — linked to oxygen and phosphorus. By simply mixing them in solution, he can get them to self-assemble into cell-like spheres."
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Researcher Builds Life-Like Cells Made of Metal

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  • Shameful hype (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Linzer ( 753270 ) on Thursday September 15, 2011 @03:31AM (#37407210)
    This has to be the most overhyped, buzzword-ridden science story I've read in months. As a researcher, I hate to see whatever credibility we have spent on things like this.
  • by satuon ( 1822492 ) on Thursday September 15, 2011 @03:50AM (#37407272)
    Without self-replication I wouldn't call them life, evolution can't work without self-replication of some sort.
  • Cells, riight (Score:4, Insightful)

    by qbast ( 1265706 ) on Thursday September 15, 2011 @04:04AM (#37407320)
    So he made some 'bubbles' that don't dissolve and can mimic some simplest properties of a cell like porous membrane. Without self-replication it is not cell or anything resembling life and without some way to change and pass those changes onto next generation there can be no evolution. In related news: I took a cardboard box and painted 'screen' and 'keyboard' on it. It totally proves that laptop can be made from cardboard. Of course it does not work, but this is just a little detail that can be worked out later.
  • Re:Cells, riight (Score:5, Insightful)

    by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Thursday September 15, 2011 @05:45AM (#37407684)

    > Without self-replication it is not cell or anything resembling life

    Nobody ever said self replication has to work the same way it does for us. The article does say he found ways for the cells to use other cells as templates for modification and indeed replication.
    It's an interesting approach to replication - as it changes one existing cell into a replica of another, but it's quite feasible. More-over we have no actual idea what the earliest organic structures looked like, or even how they came to exist. There are dozens of viable theories on abiogenesis and none of them are currently provable - for all we know, that is exactly how the earliest replicating life began ! What were we BEFORE we were cells ? Surely we were simpler, more primitive cells with less of the features of current ones, and before that ? Well the mitochondria we have INSIDE our cells were once a seperate organism... now what used to be something alive in it's own right, is just a component of our cells. How many other components of our cells began as seperate, simpler, life form but didn't leave us fossils to conveniently prove it with ?

    This research is in fact incredibly exciting because it shows a way of experimenting with ways early life may have begun. It's using different materials - but that's actually a GOOD thing, as it stops us from trying to just recreate what we have when we don't know what, what we have, used to be. It forces us to think from scratch, as life would have started... and that IS exciting.
    More-over, if it works, if it gets far enough... it opens up entire new avenues of consideration in terms of how life may have evolved on other worlds.

  • by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Thursday September 15, 2011 @05:45AM (#37407686)
    What he did was inventing a metal-based soap. Wich is impressive, but very far from life.
  • by Your.Master ( 1088569 ) on Thursday September 15, 2011 @05:58AM (#37407748)

    Evolution requires replication, not necessarily self-replication. An earlier poster mentioned viruses, which are an example of a thing, living or not (I'd say not), that evolves without replicating itself.

    Broadly speaking, "human men" and "human women" are each not self-replicating, but the system of "human men and human women" is self replicating. Still, you can speak of features that evolved in women distinctly from men, such as prominent breasts, even though human women in isolation do not self-replicate. So as a gedankenexperiment, imagine you have an imperfect cloning machine and a world of only men (the clones pop out full-grown). This single-sex could use it to replicate indefinitely and evolve. And if those men maintain, repair, and build new cloning machines, then you have a species which doesn't self-replicate by itself, but the species-cloning-machine system is self-replicating, much as the man-woman system is self-replicating. Now you can imagine that no new cloning machines are ever made but the one was built to last a hundred million years. Now there is *no* system that's self-replicating but the men still replicate, with the help of the cloning machine, and therefore still evolve.

    I don't see why evolution would be a requirement of life anyway. Evolution is merely an inescapable consequence of anything which replicates iteratively and imperfectly, whether or not it is life.

    I do know some traditional definitions of life require self-replication, at the species level.

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe