The search for alien life may have been altered forever by an amazing new conclusion by researchers.
The only life forms in existence today are based off of carbon, but what if there was another material in the universe that could lead to alien life? Researchers say in a new paper published in the journal Science that silicon can be made to bond naturally with carbon, which could open the door for many possibilities, not just with regards to alien life but also for human engineering.
Silicon is an interesting material for scientists because it is abundant, and it is very good for “evolutionary tinkering,” said one scientist in a Nature report. But only carbon has been known to allow for life forms, and none of them also made use of silicon. Only scientists, not Nature, have ever bonded the two.
Scientists used a method called directed evolution to mutate an enzyme to create a bonding reaction between the two materials. It’s not a new idea, but this is the first time chemists have used this particular method. Silicon can form long chains of molecules, making it a potential building block for life.
It’s an exciting discovery that could lead to tremendous medical breakthroughs, and could perhaps even help us find alien life on other planets that isn’t carbon-based.
“We decided to get nature to do what only chemists could do–only better,” says Frances Arnold, Caltech’s Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry, and principal investigator of the new research, published in the Nov. 24 issue of the journal Science.
“No living organism is known to put silicon-carbon bonds together, even though silicon is so abundant, all around us, in rocks and all over the beach,” says Jennifer Kan, a postdoctoral scholar in Arnold’s lab and lead author of the new study.