Glasgow University in bid to create 'inorganic life'

Inorganic chemistry Prof Cronin wants to create an 'inorganic biology'

Scientists in Scotland are undertaking pioneering research to create life from inorganic chemicals.

All life on earth is based on organic biology - in the form of carbon compounds - but the inorganic world is considered to be inanimate.

A team from Glasgow University has demonstrated a new way of making inorganic chemical cells.

The aim is to create self-replicating, evolving inorganic cells which could be used in medicine and chemistry.

The project is being led by Professor Lee Cronin from the university's College of Science and Engineering.

Useful applications

He said: "What we are trying do is create self-replicating, evolving, inorganic cells that would essentially be alive. You could call it inorganic biology."

Professor Cronin's team has demonstrated a new way of creating inorganic chemical cells.

These can be compartmentalised by creating internal membranes that control the passage of materials and energy through them, meaning several chemical processes can be isolated within the same cell - just like biological cells.

Start Quote

If successful this would give us some incredible insights into evolution and show that it's not just a biological process”

End Quote Professor Lee Cronin Glasgow University

Researchers say the cells, which can also store electricity, could potentially be used in all sorts of applications in medicine, as sensors or to confine chemical reactions.

The research is part of a project by Prof Cronin to demonstrate that inorganic chemical compounds are capable of self-replicating and evolving - just as organic, biological carbon-based cells do.

Prof Cronin believes that creating inorganic life it is entirely feasible.

He added: "The grand aim is to construct complex chemical cells with life-like properties that could help us understand how life emerged and also to use this approach to define a new technology based upon evolution in the material world - a kind of inorganic living technology.

"Bacteria are essentially single-cell micro-organisms made from organic chemicals, so why can't we make micro-organisms from inorganic chemicals and allow them to evolve?

"If successful this would give us some incredible insights into evolution and show that it's not just a biological process. It would also mean that we would have proven that non carbon-based life could exist and totally redefine our ideas of design."

A paper by Prof Cronin's team - Modular Redox-Active Inorganic Chemical Cells: iCHELLs - is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

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