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Name: Courtney
Status: Student
Age: 20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 

Does EVERY living thing replicate itself through DNA?
Are there non-living things that replicate themselves?

There are viruses that replicate with RNA but they need to go through a stage of DNA when inside a host cell.

Non-living things that replicate themselves? I had a discussion with a geologist once who gave the example of crystals, that produce self-like crystals from non-crystalline material. The basic components of rocks are used and reused in eternal cycles, crystals are formed, stable for a limited time, then degraded and their material is reused for new crystals. They are clearly not alive, but what defines that they are not? They don't move, but so don't do trees. They don't always produce identical offspring, but not one mold looks alike its sister. In fact, the only argument I could come up with is that they are not composed of organic material (C, H, O and some odd elements) and that there is no energy metabolism. The geologist would argue the latter: there certainly is crystallization energy involved. Could you come up with a better argument that defines living forms?

Trudy Wassenaar

Yes, all living things require DNA to replicate themselves. As for non-living things, there is some semantic debate as to whether viruses are living or not. Not all viruses contain DNA, but those that do not contain RNA, which must be transcribed into DNA to replicate the virus.

Recently, chemists have produced some synthetic chemical systems that "self-replicate" in a limited sense (see Andrew Robertson, Andrew J. Sinclair, and Douglas Philp. "Minimal Self-Replicating Systems." Chemical Society Reviews 29 (1999): 141-52 for more detail).

Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
Assistant Director
PG Research Foundation, Darien, Illinois

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