We've long been searching and wondering about the origin of life (aka abiogenesis). The famous Miller-Urey experiment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller%E2%80%93Urey_experiment) demonstrated that conditions similar to early Earth (plus lightning) spontaneously creates important organic compounds that are necessary for the life we see on Earth (caveat: Miller and Urey may have been wrong about early Earth conditions).
Spiegelman tried to create something closer to what we'd consider living. His "monster" was bootstrapped with an enzyme and some RNA (a simpler version of DNA). The enzyme replicated the RNA many times over. After a "generation" of replication, he'd move a sample of the RNA over to a new test tube. This would be the father of a new generation. And so on, he repeated this process almost 100 times.
The interesting thing is that this extremely simple "monster" ended up evolving in a way. By the end of a few generations, the RNA had adapted to its environment and become much more efficient at replication. Other attempts at the experiment have produced similar results. In effect, Spiegelman created a barebones pseudo-living machine, and demonstrated it undergoing evolution in the process.
I learned about this "monster" from reading a Great Courses book on Information Science. Apparently the molecular "organism" is fascinating to information theorists because it evolved to have less information in response to an environment where more information, and the burden of longer-replication times, was unfavorable.
The definition of living by most biologists wouldn't include a strand of genetic material. Fire replicates in particular environments, as do viruses. But we don't typically classify either as living.
I think the point you're getting at is that the distinction between living and non-living is a bit arbitrary and meaningless. I agree.
A crystals arrangement of its microscopic structure will always be the same, as will the oxidation reaction in fire.
A virus undergoes darwinian evolution and will adapt to its environment
Spiegelman's monster isn't alive under any common definition of alive, but it has fascinating properties nonetheless and appears to be an attractor in the RNA sequence space, which is quite interesting on its own.
- Diamonds move through the earth (since the earth itself is not static), grow, and split. This means they move and reproduce. Are they alive?
- Prions are proteins that reproduce directly, by bumping into other proteins and forming them into prions. Are they alive?
The general run of thought that I'm familiar with is that bacteria are unambiguously alive, viruses are ambiguously alive, and diamonds are unambiguously not alive. Prions would go somewhere on the scale between viruses and diamonds. I would personally rate the monster below prions in terms of "being alive"; it doesn't surprise me to see it called "pseudo-living".
Interesting you say that. I was always taught that viruses fell into the "not alive" category.
There is no "not alive" category; that is the long-discredited philosophy of vitalism. It's purely a question of how you choose to do your analysis.
But I'll leave you with a selection from the wikipedia article "Virus":
Opinions differ on whether viruses are a form of life, or organic structures that interact with living organisms. They have been described as "organisms at the edge of life", since they resemble organisms in that they possess genes, evolve by natural selection, and reproduce by creating multiple copies of themselves through self-assembly. Although they have genes, they do not have a cellular structure, which is often seen as the basic unit of life. Viruses do not have their own metabolism, and require a host cell to make new products. They therefore cannot naturally reproduce outside a host cell – although bacterial species such as rickettsia and chlamydia are considered living organisms despite the same limitation. Accepted forms of life use cell division to reproduce, whereas viruses spontaneously assemble within cells. They differ from autonomous growth of crystals as they inherit genetic mutations while being subject to natural selection.
Is life on earth everything that processes sunlight, directly or indirectly? Well solar panels do and microbes subsisting on energy released from deep sea vents don't. Is sexual reproduction the defining characteristic of life? Plenty of examples to the contrary of life forms reproducing in other ways.
It's actually really hard to find a precise definition that doesn't have an exception.
As for the Spielgelman's Monster, if this were to be described as living, that would mean man had created "life" from non-living matter, that would be rather big news.
But it also doesn't do much. That's a nebulous, hard to pin down statement. But I mean it doesn't have all the complex machinery and behaviors of living cells. It's static and kind of just floats around. Until things happen to bump into it and stick.
It's not fundamentally different than a virus. Which are also self replicating, but I don't think they are considered "living".
218 nucleotides = 436 bits = 54.5 bytes
I wonder what the current state of the art of homemade bioexperimentation is.
If you're in the bay area, here's a hacker/maker space for biology:
If you're not, you could investigate joining an iGEM team. It's an annual synthetic biology competition, where competitors engineer biological "machines" and are encouraged to factor their work into standard, reusable biological components, called BioBricks (see: http://parts.igem.org/Catalog). I participated for some time in college, and it was really exciting and I was able to contribute via mathematical/in silica modeling with only a handful of undergraduate biology courses under my belt.
If you're set on your own biohacking space, you're going to need to get some equipment. A non-exhaustive list of what you'll likely need in no particular order, are: reaction vessels, pipettes + tips, plates + medium, incubators, autoclave, fridge/freezer, restriction enzymes & ligase, electrophoresis chamber + gel, PCR machine + polymerase, centrifuge, microscope, and of course, some e. coli.
Please do your research and if you don't have lab experience or are uncertain about something, find someone who has worked in a lab to help you. Most of this stuff isn't as scary as it seems, but if you mishandle the equipment&chemicals, you can do real damage, to yourself, to property, and to the environment. It's not something you should "move fast and break things" with.