Anybody who’s seen Terminator has probably harboured at least minor fear of a robotic apocalypse at some stage or another. While it’s still unlikely, the prospect of bionic biology is no longer exclusive to the narrative of sci-fi blockbusters.
Lee Cronin, a scientist based in the University of Glasgow, and his 44-strong team of researchers have successfully built life-like cells from metal molecules. By mixing a range of “polyoxometalates” made up of oxygen, phosphorous and a selection of metals including Tungsten in a solution, cell-like bubbles – named iCHELLs by the team – are able to form.
The real innovation lies in the iCHELL’s ability to act as real, living cells. By modifying the construction of the cells, the team has been able to produce the afore-mentioned life-like qualities. If the oxide’s structure has holes in it, it becomes porous, enabling the iCHELL to allow certain chemicals in and out of the cell walls, depending on size – just like an organic cell. Photosynthesis has become an option for the cells by fusing light-sensitive dyes to some of the oxide molecules.
The intention is to prove that evolution is possible outside the boundaries of organic biology. While this kind of experimentation may sound unconventional, once it is fully developed, the effects it could take on other areas of research are numerous – particularly in terms of the search for extraterrestrial life. Cronin believes that life on other planets is a certainty, telling MONOLITH, ““If the experiments work down in the lab, it will tell us something about what is possible on another planet, or an asteroid.” Furthermore, the possibility of bionic extensions to humans becomes an increasingly likely possibility – if a distant one. Progressing toward technology that could potentially lead to bionic organ transplants or augmented reality contact lenses is a huge prospect for science.
Though Cronin is passionate when it comes to the relevance of his work, he’s aware of it’s unconventional nature, and the scrutiny it has received from numerous scientists. Despite this, he doesn’t seem the least bit phased by it, telling MONOLITH, “Don’t believe me until you’ve seen the evidence yourself.”
Read a full interview with Lee Cronin in Issue #1. Reserve your copy here.