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Name: Lance
Status: Other
Age: 15
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I realize that there are some problems with the possibility of silicon-based life. Carbon can form stable bonds with many elements and that makes it a good material to construct life upon. Would there be any similar problems with a nitrogen-based lifeform?

The following might be helpful:

Anthony Brach

Well, to an extent, WE are nitrogen-based life forms. Nitrogen atoms are part of the backbones of proteins, which are fundamental constituents of all living things. Nitrogen isn't part of the backbone of DNA and RNA, but it does play a part in the structure of those molecules. (Carbon, oxygen, and phosphorus are in DNA and RNA backbones - should we say that we are phosphorus and oxygen-based life forms, too?)

CArbon is a more convenient designation for a base because it forms stable chains with an all-carbon backbone. No other element does anything like this. Silicon comes close, making very stable polymeric chains with alternating silicon and oxygen atoms. All-nitrogen chains are very unstable. As I said before, though, nitrogen is part of the very important linkages in proteins. This gives the chemistry of life a richness and versatility that it could not have with carbon and hydrogen alone.

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

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