On the 14th day from the commencement of the experiment, I observed, through a lens, a few small white excrescences or nipples projecting from about the middle of the electrified stone, and nearly under the dropping of the fluid above. On the 18th day, these projections enlarged, and 7 or 8 filaments, each of them longer than the excrescence from which t grew, made their appearance on each of the nipples. On the 22nd day, these appearances were more elevated and distinct, and on the 26th day, each figure assumed the form of a perfect insect, standing erect on a few bristles which formed its tail. Till this period I had no notion that these appearances were any other than an incipient mineral formation; but it was not until the 28th day, when I plainly perceived these little creatures move their legs, that I felt any surprise, and I must own that when this took place, I was not a little astonished
Crosse. A. Annals of Electricity, Magnetism, & Chemistry, vol. 2: 246-257 (January-June 1838)
The term Acari is sometimes used to refer to an alleged example of abiogenesis and/or artificial life discovered by the research of Andrew Crosse and, allegedly, replicated by Michael Faraday. The term Acari is derived from the genus that includes common mites and ticks, so you'll often see Crosse's critters referred to as Acari crossi or Acari electricus.
During the application of a continuous electrical current to a retort containing a mixture of chemicals, Crosse observed the appearance of a number of small creatures like mites which grew inside the retort and were seen to move around, despite the environment within being hostile to most known forms of life.
Despite Faraday's duplication of his work, Crosse was met with abuse and ridicule and research in this area ceased. No records of the experiments remain in the surviving laboratory notes of Faraday and the question of what exactly happened has not as yet been resolved. The results were also reportedly duplicated over the course of a year and a half by an amateur named Weeks of Sandwich - isn't that an amazing name for a scientist?
To be clear, Crosse never exactly claimed to have created life. He pondered if perhaps the electrical current in his experiments awoke or revived the undetected dormant eggs of a species of mite of the known genus Acarus, but he'd found no evidence of contamination of his samples. He admitted to not understanding what he'd found, and only being able to speculate about it's cause(s). A local newspaper misunderstood his claims (and the science behind them) and interpreted it incorrectly, starting the myth that he had created life out of nothing. This abiogenesis claim the paper made struck some folks as blasphemous, and (even though Crosse himself took great pains to avoid ever making such a claim) he was forced to leave town under pressure from religious groups.
Crosse was friends with Percy Blythe Shelly and Mary Shelly, and was likely one of the inspirations for the later's Frankenstein, the character that created life with electricity and had to deal with a few angry mobs wielding torches & pitchforks himself.
Game and Story Use
- The research may have been suppressed for a reason - perhaps the acari were dangerous, or perhaps the creation of artificial life is a Secret Man is not meant to know.
- Of course if Crosse's notes were to turn up somewhere…
- Maybe some illuminated group siezed them and has been working on artificial life ever since…
- Maybe this is the same technique used for creating homonculi … or something very closely related.
- A Victorian-tinged (or even Cthulhu-tainted) horror game ("by gaslight") could get some mileage out of this. Viktor Frankenstein, Herbert West, or any other Mad Scientist dabbling in golems, reanimation, necromancy or electricity might have these critters.
- Though tiny, they could serve as spies easily enough, or as servants or pets if bit bigger.
- If really huge, they could be a monster or something akin to a guard dog.
- If small but numerous, they could be a creepy infestation of the villain's lair, or act as a tell-tale clue to the presence of the mad doctor.
- For a slightly less creepy version, you could have Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton (or Andrew Crosse if you insist on historical accuracy or just been predictable) grow these completely benign critters in their lab. In this case, you'd mainly use them as set dressing and to flavor a scene.
- Given their exotic creation, Acari crossi could have Bizarre Alien Biology. See Hypothetical Types Of Biochemistry for more ideas.
- Weeks of Sandwich - that's seriously the name of the guy who spent a year and a half duplicating Crosse's experiments. Somebody's gotta use this guy as an NPC, because that name is just too cool to waste.