Would silicon based life be possible?

  • 1 Replies

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


William DeHaven

  • Guest
Would silicon based life be possible?
« on: 25/05/2011 07:01:02 »
William DeHaven  asked the Naked Scientists:
Dear Chris and gang

In a recent show you were talking about life on earth being solely based on carbon.  Helen, who may not have been on that show, should have pipped in since there were silicon based life forms found near thermal vents at the bottom of the ocean if I'm not mistaken.  How is it that life can be based on silicon and could that lead credence to the discovery of a crop circle, now famous for its description of an alien race that is silicon based.  see links with crop circle info:



Love the show, been listening for years now:-)


What do you think?
« Last Edit: 25/05/2011 07:01:02 by _system »


Offline CliffordK

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • 6321
  • Site Moderator
    • View Profile
Would silicon based life be possible?
« Reply #1 on: 25/05/2011 09:10:56 »
Some of those crop circles are extraordinary in their detail and symmetry, although most evidence points to crop circles being some kind of a man made hoax or publicity stunt.

As far as silicon life being possible.

Silicon falls immediately below carbon in the periodic table.  Essentially any compound that can be made with carbon also has a silicon analog, although apparently the silicon-hydrogen compounds (silanes) are not as stable as the corresponding carbon-hydrogen compounds (alkanes) in the presence of oxygen.
Silicon is also extremely plentiful on Earth's crust.

One of the problems with silicon based life is that the energy and energy transport mechanisms may have to be different.  Silicon dioxide (CO2 equivalent) is a solid, and a major constituent of glass, sand, and rock. 

I.E.  the metabolism of silanes would yield sand, rather than a gas that can be easily exhaled. 

The photosynthesis cycle of life would have to have easy uptake of this sand to regenerate the silanes.  Carbon being a light element is likely plentiful in most solar systems and is the more likely basic building block of life, although it wouldn't be unexpected to find organisms that incorporated both silicon and carbon.

We use silicon in computers due to its semi-conductor qualities.  It is noted that our brain is basically an electrical system, although using the movement of positive cations for the electrical signal propagation.  I suppose an alien brain could develop much differently than our own.

However, the digital silicon microchips are unlikely to spontaneously evolve.

We are on the brink of developing true artificial intelligence.  And, at some point computer based AI could develop very quickly, and become very powerful, to the point where computers may be able to self-develop, as well as self-assemble at which point they could be the equivalent of life itself.  Intelligent computers may become the logical extension of humans for interstellar exploration as they can be built to withstand higher G-Force shock.  Can function in a wider temperature range, as well as non-pressurized.  Not damaged by zero-G environments.  And, would be perfectly happy to embark on a 1000 year voyage.  They could also shift into minimal power-saving mode during an extended voyage.  Furthermore, at their destination they could mine resources from a wider variety of planets. 

In short, AI could be the key to extending humanity to the stars.

And, at some point, computer "life" might become independent from the carbon-based developers.

I did a quick web based search for silicon based life on Earth.  I did find a few blogs, but no major scientific articles indicating any life on Earth that uses silicon as a major structural compound.

There are notes some bacteria that can substitute arsenic for phosphorous, at least in some quantities.
« Last Edit: 25/05/2011 09:50:09 by CliffordK »