Scientists in Australia have replicated a sticky brown prehistoric ‘goo’, believed to be the source of life on Earth, and discovered it has major health benefits.
The primordial sludge was first recreated in the Fifties but researchers have now found that molecules from it could be used as a coating for medical devices to reduce the risk of infections or complications.
The coating, which can easily be reproduced, could be applied to implants such as bone replacements, catheters and pacemakers.
In an experiment in 1952, Stanley Miller attempted to simulate the primeval conditions believed to have led to the origins of life on Earth.
Mr Miller, a chemist working at the University of Chicago, sent electrical charges through a mixture of water vapour and gases believed to have been present in Earth’s early atmosphere.
Within days, the repeated zapping produced a brown sludge made up of organic compounds, including several amino acids that form proteins and are effectively the building blocks of life.
The experiment is considered one of the best-known in modern science and prompted much conjecture about the potential for further Frankenstein-like laboratory creations. But, as Mr Miller later admitted, it failed to lead to the discovery of the precise origins of life.
Scientists have neglected its implications for medicine and other fields. “We wanted to use these prehistoric molecules, which are believed to have been the source of all life evolving on Earth, to see if we could apply the chemistry in a practical way,” said Dr Richard Evans, from the CSIRO.
“All the people working over the last 50 or 60 years in this field of prebiotic chemistry had not thought about this before,” added Helmut Thissen, a CSIRO researcher. “This discovery is exciting for us because it takes this entire field of prebiotic chemistry and all the developments in that field to an application and, in our particular case, to a biomedical application.”
The goo and its molecules can be quickly and cheaply produced but the coating will require further testing. The agency reportedly plans to team up with a biomedical manufacturer to exploit the technology and make it commercially available.
Scientists said the coating helped to “disguise the implants” and encouraged the body to integrate them quickly. Their findings have been published in the journal NPG Asia Materials.
“The non-toxic coating is adhesive and will coat almost any material,” Dr Evans said.
“The human body is a complex system so there is a lot to consider when implanting artificial parts. Reducing the likelihood of infection and ensuring the body doesn’t reject implants are ongoing medical challenges.”