Friday, August 10, 2007

Life, but not as we know it...

Life will find a way. That's the message from a new study in the New Journal of Physics that posits lifelike structures may form from inorganic substances in space. An international team has discovered that under the right conditions, particles of inorganic dust can become organized into helical structures. These structures can then interact with each other in ways that are usually associated with organic compounds and life itself.

Computer models were created to predict the behaviors of inorganic molecules in a plasma,
a state of matter common in space where electrons are torn from atoms leaving behind charged particles. As the plasma becomes polarized as the charges separate, the molecules self-organize into corkscrew structures. These structures are also charged, and attract one another. But there's more:

...they also undergo changes that are normally associated with biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins, say the researchers. They can, for instance, divide, or bifurcate, to form two copies of the original structure. These new structures can also interact to induce changes in their neighbours and they can even evolve into yet more structures as less stable ones break down, leaving behind only the fittest structures in the plasma.
According to V.N. Tsytovich of the General Physics Institute, Russian Academy of Science in Moscow, working with colleagues in Germany and Australia:
"These complex, self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter," says Tsytovich, "they are autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve".
Finding life that evolved in a completely different way from life here on earth would be a huge step forward, and further refutes the arguments of creationists. It opens doors to contemplating myriad forms of life in the universe, in many different environments, and makes the discovery of life more probable outside of a narrow range of conditions on earth-like planets. Stay tuned!

9 comments:

Guitanguran said...

"As the plasma becomes polarized as the charges separate, the molecules self-organize into corkscrew structures."

Well, a couple of questions.

Is this actually observable or based on computer modeling only?

What is the self-organizing mechanism?

Steve Weaver said...

guitanguran, the full paper has now been published here: New Journal of Physics
The results are based on computer modeling only, although they do claim that something like a helix may have been seen in a plasma. There's a nice article on this at Ars Technica. Since it's only a theoretical paper, it should of course not be held up as a representation of the real world necessarily, but my point is that we may need to broaden our horizons with regard to searching for life on alien worlds.

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