It’s (Almost) Alive! Scientists Create a Near-Living Crystal
2013-02-04 0:00

By Brandon Keim | Wired.com

Three billion years after inanimate chemistry first became animate life, a newly synthesized laboratory compound is behaving in uncannily lifelike ways.

The particles aren’t truly alive — but they’re not far off, either. Exposed to light and fed by chemicals, they form crystals that move, break apart and form again.

“There is a blurry frontier between active and alive,” said biophysicist Jérémie Palacci of New York University. “That is exactly the kind of question that such works raise.”




Palacci and fellow NYU physicist Paul Chaikin led a group of researchers in developing the particles, which are described Jan. 31 in Science as forming “living crystals” in the right chemical conditions.

Their experiments are rooted in the researchers’ interest in self-organizing collective behaviors, which are easier to study in controlled particle form than in schooling fish or flocking birds.

Each particle is made from a microscopic cube of hematite, a compound consisting of iron and oxygen, sheathed in a spherical polymer coat. One corner is left exposed.

Under certain wavelengths of blue light, hematite conducts electricity. When the particles are placed in a hydrogen peroxide bath under blue light, chemical reactions catalyze around the exposed tips.

As the hydrogen peroxide breaks down, concentration gradients form. The particles travel down these, aggregating into crystals that also follow the gradients.

Random forces pull the crystals apart, but eventually they merge again. The process repeats again and again, stopping only when the lights go out.

The ultimate goal of the work is to study how complicated collective behaviors arise from simple individual properties, perhaps informing molecular self-assembly projects, but it’s hard not to think about the origin-of-life implications.

“Here we show that with a simple, synthetic active system, we can reproduce some features of living systems,” Palacci said. “I do not think this makes our systems alive, but it stresses the fact that the limit between the two is somewhat arbitrary.”

Chaikin notes that life is difficult to define, but can be said to possess metabolism, mobility, and the ability to self-replicate. His crystals have the first two, but not the last.

[...]

Read the full article at: wired.com





Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Norway’s sneaky arms exports to Israel
2015-05-06 22:57
It may come as a shock that Norway, the home of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Oslo accords, is funneling weapons to Israel. Palestine is second only to Afghanistan in the amount of aid it receives from the Norwegian government. Last year, Norway’s aid to Palestine totaled nearly $100 million. Palestine solidarity activists stage a die-in outside the Norwegian parliament in ...
TV2 Denmark Documentary on HPV Vaccine Shows Lives of Young Women Ruined
2015-05-06 21:17
TV2 Denmark has done something no mainstream media network in the United States will dare to do: look into the controversial HPV vaccine that many have claimed has ruined the lives of so many young women, and publish an investigative report. In December of 2013 Katie Couric did a show on the HPV Gardasil Vaccine where she dared to interview the ...
Unique historic color video shows Berlin in July 1945
2015-05-06 5:38
New footage has emerged of Berlin in the aftermath of World War II. The video, filmed in July 1945, shows famous landmarks like the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag in ruins as ordinary citizens try to go about their everyday lives. The video, shot around two months after the city fell in 1945, shows the utter destruction the German capital underwent ...
Universities Don't Understand Safe Spaces
2015-05-06 1:07
Youtube description: Apparently people don't understand why allowing people to grow up in a perpetual hug box is bad for them. This article's writer does give me some faith in humanity though. Source: youtube.com
#TexasAttack What You Are Not Being Told!
2015-05-06 1:45
A video giving us a clearer picture of what's really going on behind the recent attack in Texas, Garland. Source: youtube.com
More News »