January 15, 2009
--Like delicate strands of glass jewelry, nano-sized ropes of silica twist into graceful crystalline shapes. These and other curvy crystals are the first to be created in a lab without biological agents driving their formation, according to a study in this week's issue of the journal Science.
Until now scientists had thought rounded crystals, such as those found in seashells and bones, could only be made by living organisms. In such a case, fossilized curves in rocks from early Earth or even other planets would seem to be sure signs of life.
But Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz, of the University of Granada in Spain, and his colleagues found that some minerals can self-assemble into structures that mimic those found in nature.
The finding throws a wrench in the search for alien life, but it could help researchers better understand how animals create parts of their bodies out of minerals.
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Image courtesy Emilio Melero and Juan Manuel Garcia-Ruiz/Laboratorio de Estudios Cristalograficos (CSIC-Universidad de Granada)