Life on earth is organic. It is composed of organic molecules, which are simply the compounds of carbon, excluding carbonates and carbon dioxide.
The idea that particles of inorganic dust may take on a life of their own is nothing short of alien
Now, an international team has discovered that under the right conditions, particles of inorganic dust can become organised into helical structures.
These structures can then interact with each other in ways that are usually associated with organic compounds and life itself.
Plasma is essentially the fourth state of matter beyond solid, liquid and gas, in which electrons are torn from atoms leaving behind a miasma of charged particles
particles in a plasma can undergo self-organization as electronic charges become separated and the plasma becomes polarized. This effect results in microscopic strands of solid particles that twist into corkscrew shapes, or helical structures
Quite bizarrely, not only do these helical strands interact in a counterintuitive way in which like can attract like, but they also undergo changes that are normally associated with biological molecules, such as DNA and proteins, say the researchers.
They can, for instance, divide, or bifurcate, to form two copies of the original structure.
So, could helical clusters formed from interstellar dust be somehow alive?
"These complex, self-organized plasma structures exhibit all the necessary properties to qualify them as candidates for inorganic living matter," says Tsytovich,
"they are autonomous, they reproduce and they evolve."
The researchers hint that perhaps an inorganic form of life emerged on the primordial earth, which then acted as the template for the more familiar organic molecules we know today.