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Crystals: animal, vegetable or mineral?

Hyde ST - Interface Focus (2015)

Bottom Line: For example, liquid crystals and other soft materials are common to both living and inanimate materials.The older picture of disjoint universes of forms is better understood as a continuum of forms, with significant overlap and common features unifying biological and inorganic matter.In addition to the philosophical relevance of this perspective, there are important ramifications for science.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Applied Mathematics, Research School of Physics and Engineering , The Australian National University , Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200 , Australia.

ABSTRACT
The morphologies of biological materials, from body shapes to membranes within cells, are typically curvaceous and flexible, in contrast to the angular, facetted shapes of inorganic matter. An alternative dichotomy has it that biomolecules typically assemble into aperiodic structures in vivo, in contrast to inorganic crystals. This paper explores the evolution of our understanding of structures across the spectrum of materials, from living to inanimate, driven by those naive beliefs, with particular focus on the development of crystallography in materials science and biology. The idea that there is a clear distinction between these two classes of matter has waxed and waned in popularity through past centuries. Our current understanding, driven largely by detailed exploration of biomolecular structures at the sub-cellular level initiated by Bernal and Astbury in the 1930s, and more recent explorations of sterile soft matter, makes it clear that this is a false dichotomy. For example, liquid crystals and other soft materials are common to both living and inanimate materials. The older picture of disjoint universes of forms is better understood as a continuum of forms, with significant overlap and common features unifying biological and inorganic matter. In addition to the philosophical relevance of this perspective, there are important ramifications for science. For example, the debates surrounding extra-terrestrial life, the oldest terrestrial fossils and consequent dating of the emergence of life on the Earth rests to some degree on prejudices inferred from the supposed dichotomy between life-forms and the rest.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus

Animal, vegetable or mineral? Three materials, imaged in an optical microscope. (a–c) An ancient putative micofossil; a bacterium Gallionella ferruginea and a silica-carbonate precipitate, respectively.
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RSFS20150027F7: Animal, vegetable or mineral? Three materials, imaged in an optical microscope. (a–c) An ancient putative micofossil; a bacterium Gallionella ferruginea and a silica-carbonate precipitate, respectively.

Mentions: This lesson—that biology proper (whatever that is) and condensed matter or materials science should be studied hand-in-hand—is one that remains too often ignored. The ‘tyranny of discipline’ remains a major obstacle,4 particularly in this era of extreme specialization. One last case study demonstrates the importance—and relevance—of this approach to current science. This example concerns the identification of life's remnants from fossils. Given the mineral composition, induced by templating of earlier biological remnants, the exact location of fossils in Linnaeus' schema is surely problematic. Indeed, structural measures alone are bound to be uncertain. Here is the perfect domain for a challenging game of Animal, Vegetable or Mineral! (e.g. figure 7)Figure 7.


Crystals: animal, vegetable or mineral?

Hyde ST - Interface Focus (2015)

Animal, vegetable or mineral? Three materials, imaged in an optical microscope. (a–c) An ancient putative micofossil; a bacterium Gallionella ferruginea and a silica-carbonate precipitate, respectively.
© Copyright Policy - open-access
Related In: Results  -  Collection

License
Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC4590423&req=5

RSFS20150027F7: Animal, vegetable or mineral? Three materials, imaged in an optical microscope. (a–c) An ancient putative micofossil; a bacterium Gallionella ferruginea and a silica-carbonate precipitate, respectively.
Mentions: This lesson—that biology proper (whatever that is) and condensed matter or materials science should be studied hand-in-hand—is one that remains too often ignored. The ‘tyranny of discipline’ remains a major obstacle,4 particularly in this era of extreme specialization. One last case study demonstrates the importance—and relevance—of this approach to current science. This example concerns the identification of life's remnants from fossils. Given the mineral composition, induced by templating of earlier biological remnants, the exact location of fossils in Linnaeus' schema is surely problematic. Indeed, structural measures alone are bound to be uncertain. Here is the perfect domain for a challenging game of Animal, Vegetable or Mineral! (e.g. figure 7)Figure 7.

Bottom Line: For example, liquid crystals and other soft materials are common to both living and inanimate materials.The older picture of disjoint universes of forms is better understood as a continuum of forms, with significant overlap and common features unifying biological and inorganic matter.In addition to the philosophical relevance of this perspective, there are important ramifications for science.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Applied Mathematics, Research School of Physics and Engineering , The Australian National University , Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200 , Australia.

ABSTRACT
The morphologies of biological materials, from body shapes to membranes within cells, are typically curvaceous and flexible, in contrast to the angular, facetted shapes of inorganic matter. An alternative dichotomy has it that biomolecules typically assemble into aperiodic structures in vivo, in contrast to inorganic crystals. This paper explores the evolution of our understanding of structures across the spectrum of materials, from living to inanimate, driven by those naive beliefs, with particular focus on the development of crystallography in materials science and biology. The idea that there is a clear distinction between these two classes of matter has waxed and waned in popularity through past centuries. Our current understanding, driven largely by detailed exploration of biomolecular structures at the sub-cellular level initiated by Bernal and Astbury in the 1930s, and more recent explorations of sterile soft matter, makes it clear that this is a false dichotomy. For example, liquid crystals and other soft materials are common to both living and inanimate materials. The older picture of disjoint universes of forms is better understood as a continuum of forms, with significant overlap and common features unifying biological and inorganic matter. In addition to the philosophical relevance of this perspective, there are important ramifications for science. For example, the debates surrounding extra-terrestrial life, the oldest terrestrial fossils and consequent dating of the emergence of life on the Earth rests to some degree on prejudices inferred from the supposed dichotomy between life-forms and the rest.

No MeSH data available.


Related in: MedlinePlus