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Intriguing evidence of life-like corkscrew structures that form from inorganic substances in space hint at the possibility that life beyond earth may not necessarily use carbon-based molecules as its building blocks. They may also point to a possible new explanation for the origin of life on earth.

In 2007, an international team discovered that under the right conditions, particles of inorganic dust can form helical structures that can interact with each other in ways that are usually associated with organic compounds and life itself.

V.N. Tsytovich of the General Physics Institute, Russian Academy of Science, in Moscow, working with colleagues there and at the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and the University of Sydney, Australia, studied the behavior of complex mixtures of inorganic materials in a plasma, essentially the fourth state of matter beyond solid, liquid and gas, in which electrons are torn from atoms leaving behind a miasma of charged particles.

Physicists have long assumed that there could be little organization in such a cloud of particles. However, Tsytovich and his colleagues demonstrated, using a computer model of molecular dynamics, that particles in a plasma can undergo self-organization as electronic charges become separated and the plasma becomes polarized, resulting in microscopic strands of solid particles that twist into corkscrew shapes, or helical structures. These helical strands are themselves electronically charged and are attracted to each other.

Not only do these helical strands interact in a counterintuitive way in which like can attract like, but they also undergo changes that are normally associated with biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins, said the researchers. They can divide, or bifurcate, to form two copies of the original structure that can also interact to induce changes in their neighbors and even evolve into yet more structures as less stable ones break down, leaving behind only the fittest structures in the plasma.

"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".

He added that the plasma conditions needed to form these helical structures are common in outer space. However, plasmas can also form under Earth conditions such as the point of a lightning strike. The researchers suggest that perhaps an inorganic form of life emerged on the primordial earth, which then acted as the template for the more familiar organic molecules we know today.

The Daily Galaxy via


This is a tale fitting to Arthur C. Clark. Truth can be stranger than fiction.

Unlike truth, fiction is obligated to be believable.

For myself, I wonder if Dr. Tsytovich's computer models could be extended to show that this system allows for complex life. If so, it would lead to some very interesting possibilities.

I also wonder what chemical elements are involved here. I doubt that it's just hydrogen and helium. Oxygen? Nitrogen? Lithium? Barium? I'd find that good information to have, if only as a sci-fi author.

(I tried going to the IOP site to look for the original article. but couldn't find it.)

We should be thinking of the possibility that non-carbon life forms could evolve and live in what we euphemistically call "outer space!" (And here you thought that a Terran octopus looked weird......, wait till ya get a load of these things!)

If it is true, one has to appreciate the efforts maade to establish that intelligent life forms can emerge from inorganic, non-carbon based sources. Screw like formation and mutually attraction between like-structures shows some intelligence level to be present. If more complex forms can evolve further, it may well serve the basis of finding such living organisms in outer space. The astroids have been imagied to have provided the seed for human life form on Earth. Cue may exist to explore such an angle to new living formations through this route.

"Screw like formation and mutually attraction between like-structures shows some intelligence level to be present."

What? Was it a joke I quite did not get?

It's life Jim, but not as we know it.

Ive been playing with software algorithms for sometime (since commodore 64's) trying to achieve true random states difficult with machines at the best of times, however random states with the slightest interference tend to self organize into pattern states.
Its a fantastic observation Tsytovich - Vic

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