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Artificial evolution is now possible in chemicals, but life remains elusive

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
December 9, 2014
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We're still a very long way from creating an evolving lifeform from scratch in a lab. However, the University of Glasgow has managed to foster artificial evolution in chemicals. Their technique uses a 3D printing robot to both create oil droplets and choose the next generation based on desirable properties, like stability. No, the chemicals aren't evolving on their own, but the process works much like natural selection -- after 20 generations, the droplets were noticeably more stable. In the long run, the scientists hope to use this discovery both to study the beginnings of life and maybe, just maybe, create it.

That last part may be particularly daunting. If you need proof, you need only look at another study published this week. Czech researchers say they've created the chemical ingredients for RNA (a simpler cousin to DNA) by blasting clay and a chemical mixture with a laser, recreating the conditions from an asteroid impact and thus the circumstances that might have produced Earth's first organisms. While the findings support beliefs that it's possible to create life through bursts of energy, whether from asteroids or laser beams, it didn't actually generate the RNA itself -- and there weren't many chemicals, either. The basic concept isn't necessarily wrong, but there's clearly more involved than what we've seen so far.

[Image credit: Alamy]

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