Sort of like life Friday January 9, 2009, 3 comments

Life makes more of itself. And now so can a set of custom-designed chemicals. Chemists have shown that a group of synthetic enzymes replicated, competed and evolved much like a natural ecosystem, but without life or cells.

This interesting introduction to an article called Self-Replicating Chemicals Evolve Into Lifelike Ecosystem caught my attention on Wired this morning.

Scientists have apparently created a system in which components replicate and that, once started, will continue to operate. Sort of like life. And not only will this system continue to operate, the components of this system seem to mutate. Sort of like life. Most of these mutations quickly die off on the system, but some mutations are beneficial, and allow those components with such a mutation to quickly dominate the system. Sort of like life.

Give it a read and let me know what you think.


Comments

Matthew Friday January 9, 2009


Neat article. Another good example of just how simple, yet elegant and clever, the concept of evolution is.

Adrian Friday January 9, 2009


Interestingly, the article could be construed as an argument FOR creationism – at least, the sort of creationism that accepts evolution, but posits that life was created, not a random happening.

At least it’s a conversation piece.

Daniel Black Wednesday January 14, 2009


Good read. I’m not convinced, though, that the process of evolution is tied to the question of a creator, designer, or the lack thereof. The hypotheses in either direction are underdetermined, so we can come up with any number of them and not have any way to tell which has stronger explanatory power.

It’s pretty cool, but I’m not sure why they wouldn’t expect something like this to happen. After all, they’re not synthetic in the sense that they were created from scratch, or—more importantly—in such a way as to escape statistical reproduction defects.

There are other things that challenge the standard classification of “alive,” too, most notably virii and prions. They exhibit several of the properties of life, just not all of ‘em. I think we’ve wrapped ourselves too much in our definition of life, as if it’s intrinsic to the universe, when in fact it’s a classification we created, we defined. Like the whole kerfluffle about removing Pluto’s planetary status: if you look at the old definition of planet, it wasn’t consistent with data we’ve collected and hypotheses and classifications we’ve made therefrom, since. Classification is a tool, not a divining of some fundamental essence of a thing. “Life,” then, might stand a redefinition, but I guess it still serves as a useful classification in the vast majority of cases.

I’ll claim that this link comes at an opportune time, though that’s sort of self-fulfilling. Lots of notes on life to run through these results, which is a phenomenally bland thing to say.

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A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work.”
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