Science fiction has long imagined alien worlds inhabited by silicon-based life…Now, scientists have for the first time shown that nature can evolve to incorporate silicon into carbon-based molecules, the building blocks of life on Earth.
As for the implications these findings might have for alien chemistry on distant worlds, “my feeling is that if a human being can coax life to build bonds between silicon and carbon, nature can do it too,” said the study’s senior author Frances Arnold, a chemical engineer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
The researchers steered microbes into creating molecules never before seen in nature through a strategy known as ‘directed evolution’…Arnold and her team…focused on enzymes, the proteins that catalyze or accelerate chemical reactions. Their aim was to create enzymes that could generate organo-silicon compounds.
In addition to showing that the mutant enzyme could self-generate organo-silicon compounds in a test tube, the scientists also showed that E. coli bacteria, genetically engineered to produce the mutant enzyme within themselves, could also create organo-silicon compounds. This result raises the possibility that microbes somewhere could have naturally evolved the ability to create these molecules.[Read the original source here]
The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: The Possibility of Silicon-Based Life Grows
For more background on the Genetic Literacy Project, read GLP on Wikipedia