Extraterrestrial Life Precursors

August 10th, 2011
in Background, econ_news

space-creatures Econintersect:  There have been questions about the biologically related materials found on meteorites since the 1960s. There has been uncertainty whether complex organic  compounds actually came to earth from space or were the result of terrestrial contamination.  New research on the subject, to be published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that compounds, such as amino acids and nucleobases, found on meteorites in Antarctica are not found in similar concentrations in the surrounding ice or soil.

Follow up:

What is even more fundamentally important, two of the meteorites found traces of nucleobases that are almost never found in biological forms anywhere on earth. From R&D Magazine News:

"You would not expect to see these nucleobase analogs if contamination from terrestrial life was the source, because they're not used in biology," said Michael Callahan, astrobiologist and lead author of the paper from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "However, if asteroids are behaving like chemical 'factories' cranking out prebiotic material, you would expect them to produce many variants of nucleobases, not just the biological ones, because of the wide variety of ingredients and conditions in each asteroid."

The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that the chemistry inside asteroids and comets is capable of making building blocks of essential biological molecules.  The latest research indicates certain amino acids and nucleobases—the building blocks of our genetic material—reach the Earth on meteorites in greater diversity and quantity than previously thought.  Amino acids are used to make proteins, the workhorse molecules of life. Proteins are used in everything from structures such as hair to enzymes, which are the catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical reactions.

Watch the following video for a report from the researchers.


Editor’s note: Does the existence of building block molecules that are not used biologically on earth reinforce the possibility that organic life could develop in completely different physical and intellectual forms on other planets in other solar systems or in other galaxies?

Source:  R&D Magazine News

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