Metal used to create lifelike cells

Living cells have been made of metal instead of carbon, and one British researcher thinks the creations they may be evolving.

To date scientists attempting to generate artificial life have normally work under the assumption that life must be carbon-based.

Researcher Lee Cronin from the University of Glasgow has created lifelike cells from metal, a feat few believed possible, reported.

New Scientist reported that the significant discovery potentially opens the door to the possibility that there may be life forms in the universe not based on carbon.

Even more remarkable, Cronin has implied that the metal-based cells may be replicating themselves and evolving.

"I am 100 per cent positive that we can get evolution to work outside organic biology," he said.

The high-functioning "cells" that Cronin has built are constructed from large polyoxometalates derived from a range of metal atoms, like tungsten and then by mixing them in a specialised saline solution he gets them to assemble in bubble spheres.

The result is cell-like structures called "inorganic chemical cells," or iCHELLs.

But are the cells actually alive?

Cronin has made a compelling case to answer this question.

According to his research the iCHELLS have a few features that mimic the function of real cells.

For example, iCHELLs are porous; their outer membrane is capable of selectively allowing chemicals both in and out according to size, just as real cells do.

Cronin's team has also successfully created iCHELL bubbles inside of bubbles, which means there could be a possibility of developing specialised "organelles" in the future.

Some of the iCHELLs are also being equipped with the ability to photosynthesize, just like plants do.

The photosynthesis process is still in its early stages, but by linking some oxide molecules to light sensitive dyes, the team has constructed a membrane that when illuminated splits water into hydrogen ions, electrons and oxygen which is how photosynthesis starts in nature.

But the most lifelike characteristic of the iCHELLS is their ability to evolve.

Even though they lack anything remotely resembling DNA, which means they can’t actually replicate themselves like real cells do, the research team has managed to create some polyoxometalates that can use each other as templates to self-replicate.

Experiments on evolving the cells will continue over the next seven months, as Cronin endeavours to see if different environments will change these results, which do show promise.

"I think we have just shown the first droplets that can evolve," Cronin said.

If proven, this research could actually change the definition of life itself.

Adding to this is the potential that life forms could be built from any number of elements, not just carbon which greatly improves the possibility of life existing elsewhere in the universe.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.