Simulated tubular crystal
Cairns-Smith discussed some tubular crystals in Genetic Takeover.
In particular he discusses imogolite in chapter six.
This essay is concerned with the idea that it is possible to
convert practically any clay that grows in flat sheets into
a type of tubular crystal - by simply rolling it up into a
Many clay minerals form flat sheets - and appear to grow
primarily at their edges. In most cases the sheets are thin
enough to be flexible - and sometimes they can even be
folded up - like sheets of paper - into origami-like
Although the chances of it happening in any particular
case are slender, these crystals are almost all capable
of rolling up into closed tubes.
A crystal tube has some curious properties from our
Such tubes would grow to form long, stringy crystals,
that would be somewhat flexible and difficult to snap.
Lack of brittleness seems pretty undesirable from the point
of view of a candidate early organism - since breaking into
pieces is how such crystals reproduce.
However, nothing becomes infinitely long - and even
a crystal tube would not be immune to sufficiently
powerful tensile stresses.
If pulled apart, these crystals would be quite likely to
unravel into long strips in the process. The
strips would then coil up again - or at least partially do
so. The resulting coiling patterns could be influenced
by any serial patterns along the edges of the strips.
There may be potential in this area for programmed folding -
with resulting catalytic and enzymatic behaviour.
While tubular crystals seem likely to be severely
reproductively challenged, they do seem to have some unique
properties, that may mean they had a role to play in the
origin of life.
These crystals could have stored information in patterns of
concentric layers, or along two (or more) directions along
their sides, or - at least in theory - in any combination of
Tim Tyler |