By Brandon Keim
Three billion years after inanimate chemistry first became animate life, a newly synthesized laboratory compound is behaving in uncannily lifelike ways.
The particles aren’t truly alive — but they’re not far off, either. Exposed to light and fed by chemicals, they form crystals that move, break apart and form again.
“There is a blurry frontier between active and alive,” said biophysicist Jérémie Palacci of New York University. “That is exactly the kind of question that such works raise.”
Palacci and fellow NYU physicist Paul Chaikin led a group of researchers in developing the particles, which are described Jan. 31 in Science as forming “living crystals” in the right chemical conditions.
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