“I met with so much virulence and abuse in consequence of these experiments, that it seemed as if it were a crime to have made them.” In 1837 an amateur English scientist, Andrew Crosse, was trying to create crystals artificially by passing liquid chemicals through porous minerals in the presence of an electric current. After 14 days Crosse noticed curious growths on his electrified stones. Four days later the growths had enlarged and developed filaments. By the twenty-eighth day they looked like insects with legs. In a few more days they left the stone and were moving about.

 

Within months several hundred of the tiny growths appeared. Crosse called them “acari” after the Acarus genus of mites. Some had six legs, others eight. But where had they come from? Had insect eggs been present in the stone or the liquid? The most careful examinations failed to find any.

Crosse later produced acari from liquid chemicals only after subjecting them to an electrical current. It seemed astonishing that any creature could be born, or even survive, in such an environment, and when Crosse relayed his findings to the Electrical Society, he met with widespread disbelief. Another English amateur, W.H. Weeks of Sandwich in Kent, then obtained similar results. Noted physicist Michael Faraday said that he too had observed this odd phenomenon. However, by claiming he had created living creatures from non-living substances, Crosse was accused of atheism, blasphemy and – what probably caused him most pain – shoddy research.

The hostile attacks on Andrew Crosse suppressed any further disclosures from him. Yet in a much later experiment at the University of Chicago, an electrical charge sent through a mixture of natural gases and water vapor resulted in the formation of amino acids – component molecules of protein forming the basis of all life on earth.

 

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