Finding Life's Limits

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Science  20 Nov 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5393, pp. 1399
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5393.1399

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WASHINGTON, D.C.-- DNA, RNA, and the ribosomes that help translate the genetic code into proteins have a fixed size, which puts a limit on how small a self-replicating cell can be, according to a group of experts who gathered at the National Academy of Sciences last month to discuss the limits of life at the tiniest level. Assuming that a cell needs DNA and ribosomes to make its proteins, a spherical cell much smaller than about 200 nanometers in diameter--about one-tenth the diameter of an Escherichia coli --is not compatible with life as we know it, they concluded.