First discovery of life's building block in comet made

Aug 17, 2009 by Bill Steigerwald
This is an artist's concept of the Stardust spacecraft beginning its flight through gas and dust around comet Wild 2. The white area represents the comet. The collection grid is the tennis-racket-shaped object extending out from the back of the spacecraft. Credit: NASA JPL

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA scientists have discovered glycine, a fundamental building block of life, in samples of comet Wild 2 returned by NASA's Stardust spacecraft.

" is an amino acid used by to make proteins, and this is the first time an amino acid has been found in a ," said Dr. Jamie Elsila of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts."

Elsila is the lead author of a paper on this research accepted for publication in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science. The research will be presented during the meeting of the American Chemical Society at the Marriott Metro Center in Washington, August 16.

"The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare," said Dr. Carl Pilcher, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute which co-funded the research.

Proteins are the workhorse molecules of life, used in everything from structures like hair to enzymes, the catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical reactions. Just as the 26 letters of the alphabet are arranged in limitless combinations to make words, life uses 20 different amino acids in a huge variety of arrangements to build millions of different proteins.

This is an artist's concept of particle hits on the aerogel collection grid. The greenish areas represent the aerogel. Hits are the light green teardrop-shaped areas. Particles are represented by dots at the tips of the teardrops. Credit: NASA/JPL

Stardust passed through dense gas and dust surrounding the icy nucleus of Wild 2 (pronounced "Vilt-2") on January 2, 2004. As the spacecraft flew through this material, a special collection grid filled with aerogel - a novel sponge-like material that's more than 99 percent empty space - gently captured samples of the comet's gas and dust. The grid was stowed in a capsule which detached from the spacecraft and parachuted to Earth on January 15, 2006. Since then, scientists around the world have been busy analyzing the samples to learn the secrets of comet formation and our solar system's history.

"We actually analyzed aluminum foil from the sides of tiny chambers that hold the aerogel in the collection grid," said Elsila. "As gas molecules passed through the aerogel, some stuck to the foil. We spent two years testing and developing our equipment to make it accurate and sensitive enough to analyze such incredibly tiny samples."

Earlier, preliminary analysis in the Goddard labs detected glycine in both the foil and a sample of the aerogel. However, since glycine is used by terrestrial life, at first the team was unable to rule out contamination from sources on Earth. "It was possible that the glycine we found originated from handling or manufacture of the Stardust spacecraft itself," said Elsila. The new research used isotopic analysis of the foil to rule out that possibility.

Isotopes are versions of an element with different weights or masses; for example, the most common carbon atom, Carbon 12, has six protons and six neutrons in its center (nucleus). However, the Carbon 13 isotope is heavier because it has an extra neutron in its nucleus. A glycine molecule from space will tend to have more of the heavier Carbon 13 atoms in it than glycine that's from Earth. That is what the team found. "We discovered that the Stardust-returned glycine has an extraterrestrial carbon isotope signature, indicating that it originated on the comet," said Elsila.

The team includes Dr. Daniel Glavin and Dr. Jason Dworkin of NASA Goddard. "Based on the foil and aerogel results it is highly probable that the entire comet-exposed side of the Stardust sample collection grid is coated with glycine that formed in space," adds Glavin.

"The discovery of in the returned comet sample is very exciting and profound," said Stardust Principal Investigator Professor Donald E. Brownlee of the University of Washington, Seattle, Wash. "It is also a remarkable triumph that highlights the advancing capabilities of laboratory studies of primitive extraterrestrial materials."

More information: To learn more about the mission, visit stardustnext.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Explore further: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

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User comments : 13

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omatumr
1.4 / 5 (7) Aug 17, 2009
SEPARATED D- AND L-AMINO ACIDS
AT THE BIRTH OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM

One of the mysteries of the early solar system is the process that separated d- and l-amino acids.

The question is whether this was initiated by PPL (circular polarized light) from the pulsar remnant of the supernova that gave birth to the solar system. See: "The origin, composition, and energy source for the Sun," http://arxiv.org/...411255v1

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
http://www.omatumr.com
docknowledge
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2009
Trust "science" reporters not to understand the basics of...practically anything.

"aerogel - a novel sponge-like material". Yeah, novel. It was only invented 75 years ago.
omatumr
1 / 5 (6) Aug 17, 2009
TYPO CORRECTION

The question is whether the separation of d- and l-amino acids was initiated by CPL (circular polarized light) from the pulsar remnant of the supernova that gave birth to the solar system. See: "The origin, composition, and energy source for the Sun," 32nd Lunar & Planetary Science Conference, March 2001 http://tinyurl.com/peglnx

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
http://www.omatumr.com
Gnomist
not rated yet Aug 18, 2009
The idea of metorites carrying life to Earth was raised in 1871 by Lord Kelvin

This discovery is not by any means the first

The Murchison meteorite in September 1969 named after an Australian town north of Melbourne was found to have seventy four types of amino acids, 8 of which were known to be involved with the formation of earthly protiens. This was announced in 2001 by Ames Research Centre in California.
mabarker
1.7 / 5 (7) Aug 18, 2009
*The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare* said Carl-the-darwinist. But this is just an incredible philosophical statement.
That's like saying we found aluminium in some rock, so can a space shuttle be far behind? The same goes double for the discovery of water outside the s. syst. Evolutionists equate liquid water anywhere with a *probable* advanced civilization, and maybe they have an intergalactic organization we can join . . . and maybe . . . .
thales
3.3 / 5 (3) Aug 18, 2009
I'd really like to respond point by point to that mabarker, but I just don't think I have the patience without getting all ad-hominem. At least not today. Maybe Ethelred has the time and inclination?
mabarker
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 18, 2009
While thales attempts to compose himself (he'd like to repond - but he won't), I'd like to emphasize just how daunting the biochemical challenge is of producing organic life from inorganic nonlife (keeping in mind that, *No one knows anything about the origin of life* - Geo. Cody, o. of life researcher, 1/8/06). Let's start with the (very) hypothetical spontaneous self-replicating molecule RNA - or something like it. You need a mechanism to convert the raw energy flow of the sun (and thermal energy below) into useful energy for RNA production. You also need a blueprint to organize, for example, ribose & uracil into correct and specific patterns. So, ethelred & thales - where did the informational sequences in the cryptic RNA come from? Robert Shapiro (I had lunch @ Black Angus with him years ago) said in 2000, *A profound difficulty exists, however, with the idea of RNA, or any other replicator, at the start of life. . .the formation of an information-bearing [RNA chain] through undirected chemical synthesis appears very improbable.*
goldenmean
5 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2009
(sigh) it sounds like mabarker is another frustrated intelligent design-er grasping for straws... While it probably wouldn't satisfy mabarker's ilk (is there anything that ever could, theoretically speaking?), I would like to live long enough to see quantum computing harnessed to convincingly model the emergence over a relatively short span of geologic time of a "living" system from simple organic precursor molecules such as this article identifies.
Ethelred
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 19, 2009
*The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare* said Carl-the-darwinist. But this is just an incredible philosophical statement.


Nothing incredible about it. It is just a statement regarding the odds of life on other planets. If the resources are everywhere the odds go up.

That's like saying we found aluminium in some rock, so can a space shuttle be far behind?


Life is not a space shuttle. It grows and evolves it isn't built. So the metaphor is bogus.

Evolutionists equate liquid water anywhere with a *probable* advanced civilization,


Interesting the way you invent Straw Men to attack. It looks like you are aware that you don't have reason behind you. I have yet to see anyone, except YOU, claim that liquid water equals high probability for an advanced civ.

Our planet had liquid water for billions of years and advanced civilization only recently. Assuming our civ counts as advanced. We have yet to establish human life of the Earth much less outside the Solar System so I don't count it as advanced yet. We are still subject to inhalation via global disaster.

Ethelred

Sorry for the new signature. But It Needed Killun.

From QubitTamer's fake profile

Quantum Physicist, torturer of AGW religious zealots like Ethelred because i laugh at his hysterics.


Qubitwit gets the rest of August in my signature for aiming his idiocy at me. Again.
mabarker
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 19, 2009
Goldenmean calls me *frustrated* - bad choice of word. I'm not frustrated at all. I simply have shown from secular scientists (G. Cody, Rbt. Shapiro) that the origin of life from non-life is still at square 1 and will stay there. BTW, during my lunch wi. Dr. Shapiro he candidly said all O of L experiments end up with a toxic tar on the walls of the rxn vessel. Yup - that's where people, bacteria, whales and palm trees came from! Goldenmean mentions quantum computing which still needs some 1 to program it.
Ethelred
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 20, 2009
. I simply have shown from secular scientists (G. Cody, Rbt. Shapiro) that the origin of life from non-life is still at square 1 and will stay there.


No, you have shown what is well known already by most here, at best. That is, that how life began is not understood yet. Yet is the key word. It is possible that it will never be known even in principle but there is no reason to suppose that as of the moment. That we will never know all the details is certain since the evidence was eaten by the descendants of whatever started life off. This does not in any way mean that there is no way to understand how things COULD have happened.

As for Shapiro he doesn't agree with your claim that we will stay at square one. Not even sure that he thinks we are at square one.

http://www.scient...for-life

Yup - that's where people, bacteria, whales and palm trees came from!


That does not follow from what preceded. In other words you made it up.

Goldenmean mentions quantum computing which still needs some 1 to program it.


You clearly didn't understand what he was talking about. He was proposing that a quantum computer could do the calculations for simulations for how life began in a reasonable length of time.

Programming the thing has to come after the thing is invented. Doesn't actually have to be built to start programming just designed. It has been done that way once before. Ada, the daughter of Lord Byron wrote programs for Babbage's Difference Engine and that was never built just designed.

While thales attempts to compose himself (he'd like to repond - but he won't),


Sounds a bit like you. Are you ever going to answer ANY question I ask of you, or even reply in any way at all. For instance I asked if you are a Young Earth or an Old Earth Creationist. Or do you just follow the Discovery Institutes dictate to NEVER discuss what YOU think and only invent controversies?

Ethelred

Sorry for the new signature. But It Needed Killun.

From QubitTamer's fake profile

Quantum Physicist, torturer of AGW religious zealots like Ethelred because i laugh at his hysterics.


Qubitwit gets the rest of August in my signature for aiming his idiocy at me. Again.
HenisDov
1 / 5 (2) Aug 26, 2009
Proteins Not Early Life's Building Blocks


A. "Comet dust harbors life's building blocks"
http://www.scienc...g_blocks
Samples collected from a comet%u2019s halo suggest comets could have carried amino acids - building block of proteins - to the early Earth...


B. Proteins NOT early life's building blocks

Proteins have nothing to do with the initiation and evolution of early Earth's life, the biosphere. RNA's, followed with DNA's, were "life's building blocks", the constituents of the early independent genes, Earth's primal organisms.

Earliest and present primary Earth life are, obviously and commonsensibly, and therefore scientifically, genes. Plain and simple. All other organisms, regardless of complexity, are take-offs of genes. Early life was formed and maintained with DIRECT sunlight. Hence ubiquitous life sleep. Biometabolism, dependence of life on INDIRECT sunlight energy, was a very late phase of Earth's life evolution.

See "Updated Life's Manifest May 2009"
http://www.the-sc...age#2321


Dov Henis
(Comments From The 22nd Century)
Ethelred
5 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2009
I don't really know why I am bothering. Dov Henis never engages in discussion with anyone on any site and he is on many. Why he expects to effect anyone's thinking this way is beyond me. But nonsense must be dealt with.

Proteins have nothing to do with the initiation and evolution of early Earth's life, the biosphere. RNA's, followed with DNA's, were "life's building blocks", the constituents of the early independent genes, Earth's primal organisms.


Probably wrong. It IS likely that proteins were involved in the beginning of life. Possibly in combination with RNA. DNA had to come after RNA as it can do nothing on its own. Ribosomes are a mix of RNA and proteins and are clearly one of the oldest remaining parts of life on Earth.


Earliest and present primary Earth life are, obviously and commonsensibly, and therefore scientifically, genes.


Now that it is even less likely. Genes are in DNA and DNA could not have been first as, again, it cannot do anything on its own.

Here is the link that Mabarker is ignoring. I found it interesting. Might even be right.

http://www.scient...for-life

Ethelred

Sorry for the new signature. But It Needed Killun.

From QubitTamer's fake profile

Quantum Physicist, torturer of AGW religious zealots like Ethelred because i laugh at his hysterics.


Qubitwit gets the rest of August in my signature for aiming his idiocy at me. Again.

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