All life on Earth is carbon-based, which has led to the widespread assumption that any other life that may exist in the universe would also be carbon-based. Excluding the possibility of elements other than carbon forming the basis of life is often referred to as carbon chauvinism and researchers at the University of Glasgow are looking to overcome this bias and provide new insights into evolution by attempting to create “life” from carbon-free, inorganic chemicals. They’ve now taken the first tentative steps towards this goal with the creation of inorganic-chemical-cells, or iCHELLS.
Just like biological cells, the cells created by Professor Lee Cronin, Gardiner Chair of Chemistry in the College of Science and Engineering, allow several chemical processes to be isolated within them. They can be compartmentalized by creating internal membranes that control the passage of materials and energy through them. The researchers say the cells, which can also store electricity, could potentially be used in all sorts of applications, such as sensors or to confine chemical reactions.
However, the ultimate goal of the project is to demonstrate that inorganic chemical compounds are capable of self-replicating and evolving, just like organic, biological carbon-based cells.