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Strange brew brings inorganic chemicals to life

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9:43am, May 23, 2004
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Rather than springing forth from a conglomeration of carbon-based, or organic, chemical compounds, life may have been born of inorganic compounds more akin to table salt and washing soda, according to a team of chemists that recently created cell-like structures from a mixture of inorganic chemicals.

Chemist Jerzy Maselko of the University of Alaska in Anchorage and his colleague Peter Strizhak of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kiev devised the concoction. The researchers dropped a pellet of calcium chloride doped with copper chloride into a solution of sodium carbonate. The solution also contained some hydrogen peroxide, and a bit of sodium iodide. Minutes after the chemicals were mixed, a marble-size blob formed spontaneously. Tests discerned that the blob had a semipermeable membrane across which diffused chemicals that reacted inside the cell.

The products of those reactions then diffused out of the cell. Moreover, mimicking division of living cells, daughter cells budded off from the original inorganic cells.

Maselko and Strizhak describe their inorganic creations in the April 22 Journal of Physical Chemistry, B.

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