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TagKatharine Sanderson

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First cell, origin of life

Will AI Chemistry Robots Finally Discover the Origin of Life?

Chemist Lee Cronin’s hopes for a breakthrough by getting robots to motor through millions of chemical combinations, looking for self-replicating systems

How did molecules form self-replicating systems? This is a harder problem than we sometimes think because it’s not obvious why molecules should seek to develop into complex organisms that can self-replicate. Science journalist Katharine Sanderson notes that University of Glasgow chemist Lee Cronin is using robots to test the “billions of ways” it could have happened: He and his team have set up machines that combine a selection of simple substances – acids, inorganic minerals, carbon-based molecules – to react randomly. The outcome is analysed and then an algorithm helps the robot choose how to proceed. In this way, the robot can hunt through vast swathes of chemical space to see if any self-replicating systems emerge. Cronin thinks this automated…