Could this be a new form of life?
Researchers from the California Institute of Technology have successfully bred carbon-silicon bonds from living cells which could potentially mean they have the ability to make human-made bonds too.
The scientists managed to produce the carbon-silicon bonds through breeding a bacterial protein rather than the traditional way of synthetic reproduction. Carbon-silicon is found in almost everything from TV screens and computers to paint but has never been found naturally in nature. This massive breakthrough shows that nature is able to adapt and produce new cell types causing questions of possible silicon-based life somewhere in the universe.
Silicon is the most abundant element on Earth after oxygen and is found everywhere around us. However, despite its similar chemical structure to carbon, it has never played a role in living evolution – the question as to why has always baffled scientists – if carbon was able to have a basis role in evolution of living cells, why not silicon?
“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,” said Jennifer Kan, lead author of the new study.
The study team used a protein called Rhodothermus marinus or cytochrome c enzyme which is prevalent in the hot springs of Iceland. They then isolated the protein and injected it into a bacteria in the hope it would start producing carbon-silicon bonds. After several attempts at mutating the protein gene within the bacteria genome, they suddenly struck gold – the protein could bond silicon to carbon 15 times more efficiently than any synthetic catalyst.
“This study shows how quickly nature can adapt to new challenges,” stated Frances Arnold, one of the team members involved in the study.
Scientists are excited that this could potentially be the start of a new silicon life form produced naturally in a more efficient and less expensive process.
Details of the study were published in the journal Science.