A groundbreaking new discovery could totally change the way we search for extraterrestrial life.
It’s a pretty incredible new claim: a group of scientists claims that we may be limiting ourselves too much by focusing on carbon-based lifeforms, and they’ve presented reason to think that alien life could exist on another material. Specifically, they claim that the abundant material silicon could be a candidate.
Carbon is the material that all known forms of life are based on, as the molecule can create chains of molecules. But silicon has similar properties, and it’s quite abundant, according to a California Institute of Technology statement. In the new paper, scientists claim they’ve shown that silicon can be made to bond naturally with carbon, even though the bonding has been seen anywhere in nature, only in the laboratory.
But it at least shows such a lifeform is possible perhaps somewhere out there in the universe, and it gives us a new thing to search for, expanding our possibilities. And the discovery could be useful here on Earth, allowing better human engineering and perhaps huge medical breakthroughs as a result.
“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. Silicon is the second most abundant element in Earth’s crust.