January 21, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Minerals Can Fool Astrobiologists

Look at this picture on National Geographic News.  Looks alive, doesn’t it?  It’s only a mineral.  The article contains a gallery of five micrographs of minerals that form curvy crystals.  They’re called biomorphs (a word simply meaning life-like shapes).
    “Until now scientists had thought rounded crystals, such as those found in seashells and bones, could only be made by living organisms,” the caption for picture one says.  “In such a case, fossilized curves in rocks from early Earth or even other planets would seem to be sure signs of life.”  The new crystals generated from carbonates by scientists in Spain, however, curve and twist like DNA and other biological forms.  They bring to mind the tantalizing forms in the Martian meteorite that launched the science of Astrobiology (01/07/2005, 01/28/2005).  The caption for picture five says, “by creating biomorphs such as the one above, the University of Granada’s Garcma-Ruiz and colleagues have put a serious dent in theories that rounded crystals are definitive signs of life.”
    Nature mentioned the work with a little more cautious language: “The work opens the way for new approaches to the synthesis of biological and biomimetic materials, and to the exclusion of false positives when looking for life-like forms in poorly characterized environments.”

1.  Research Highlights: “Crystal growth: getting their morph on,” Nature 457, 360 (22 January 2009) | doi:10.1038/457360a.

The shapes have no more relation to life than a statue of Robert E. Lee to the actual general.  It goes to show how people can see what they wish to see if not careful.  This year there is an epidemic of delusional people looking into their crystal balls and seeing the prophet Darwin.  Help them face reality.  It just might lower your taxes.

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