Comet contains glycine, key part of recipe for life

May 27, 2016
ROSINA detected (C2H5NO2, up) as well as Phosphorus (P, below) in the coma of the comet. Credit: © ESA

An important amino acid called glycine has been detected in a comet for the first time, supporting the theory that these cosmic bodies delivered the ingredients for life on Earth, researchers said Friday.

Glycine, an organic compound contained in proteins, was found in the cloud around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the European Space Agency's probe, Rosetta, said the study in the journal Science Advances.

The discovery was made using an instrument on the probe, called the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) mass spectrometer.

"This is the first unambiguous detection of in the thin atmosphere of a comet," said lead author Kathrin Altwegg, principal investigator of the ROSINA instrument at the Center of Space and Habitability of the University of Bern.

In addition to the simple , the instrument also found phosphorus. The two are key components of DNA and cell membranes.

Glycine has been detected in the clouds around comets before, but in previous cases scientists could not rule out the possibility of Earthly contamination.

This time, however, they could, because the mass spectrometer directly detected the glycine, and there was no need for a chemical sample preparation that could have introduced contamination.

"The multitude of organic molecules already identified by ROSINA, now joined by the exciting confirmation of fundamental ingredients like glycine and phosphorus, confirms our idea that comets have the potential to deliver key molecules for prebiotic chemistry," said Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist of the European Space Agency ESA.

"Demonstrating that comets are reservoirs of primitive material in the Solar System, and vessels that could have transported these vital ingredients to Earth, is one of the key goals of the Rosetta mission, and we are delighted with this result."

Scientists have long debated the question of whether comets and asteroids brought the components of life to Earth by smashing into oceans on our planet.

More than one hundred molecules have been detected on comets and in their dust and gas clouds, including many amino acids.

Previous data from Rosetta has shown that water on Comet 67P/C-G is significantly different from water on Earth, suggesting that comets did not play as big a role in delivering water as once thought.

However, the latest finding shows "they certainly had the potential to deliver life's ingredients," said a statement by the University of Bern.

Explore further: Philae probe finds evidence that comets can be cosmic labs

More information: K. Altwegg et al. Prebiotic chemicals—amino acid and phosphorus—in the coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Science Advances (2016). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600285 ,

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1.6 / 5 (7) May 27, 2016
supporting the theory that these cosmic bodies delivered the ingredients for life on Earth

It also supports the theory that some comets originated from Earth. Not to mention the fact that electric discharge can create these ingredients. So jumping to the Panspermia guess is due to mainstream blinders.
3.7 / 5 (9) May 27, 2016
Cantdrive, that's possibly true but what it means more to me is there there are probably comets, asteroids, etc... all over the universe that carry the chemicals that might start life. If that's the case then there is probably life all over the place in some form or other and we just haven't seen or found any of it yet because we really don't have the capability of going anywhere else yet and the universe is a big place.
Da Schneib
4.1 / 5 (7) May 27, 2016
Everything you need for RNA world has already been produced in the lab under early Earth conditions, or detected in space (mostly comets). 17 of the 20 amino acids used by life on Earth were produced in the Miller-Urey experiment according to analysis at the time, and 12 of the 20 in a similar experiment that started with hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen sulfide and irradiated them with strong UV like that produced by young Sun-like stars. 19 of the 20 were found in the Murcheson meteorite, among a total of 90 identifiable amino acids (the other 70 aren't used by Earthly life) and a recent re-analysis of sealed samples from a follow-on to the Miller-Urey experiment that sprayed steam at the spark discharge shows that they in fact produced 22 amino acids in this experiment, but did not have the assay equipment to identify them at the time.

Da Schneib
4.1 / 5 (7) May 27, 2016
In 2014 all four nucleotides of RNA were produced under conditions mimicking those proven by the evidence of cometary impact events on the Earth's surface. This is also three of the four used in DNA. (The fourth is uracil in RNA and thymine in DNA.)

The argument from evolution deniers about the Miller-Urey experiment grows increasingly tattered as the gaps get smaller and smaller.
4 / 5 (12) May 28, 2016
supporting the theory that these cosmic bodies delivered the ingredients for life on Earth

It also supports the theory that some comets originated from Earth. Not to mention the fact that electric discharge can create these ingredients. So jumping to the Panspermia guess is due to mainstream blinders.

Give it up, your silly electric comet nonsense died on its arse long since. If it originated from Earth, where is the Earth rock? Why is the H2O D/H ratio different? How are you getting something the size of a comet off the Earth? At escape velocity? In one piece?
Save it for the dunderdolts forum; such scientifically illiterate nonsense has no place on a science website.
3.9 / 5 (7) May 28, 2016
The interesting thing with the Urey-Miller/comet assays is that ~ 10 of the most produced amino acids are naturally associated with respectively tRNA sequence.

I.e. evolution could exaptate natural produced AAs and later elaborate with the remaining ones before the genetic code froze in. (And the tRNA ends instead was bonded before AA delivery to the ribosome protein factory.)

Before the genetic code evolved, the RNA world 'code' would have been the sequence information that promotes such things as binding to specific amino acid cofactors.

But yes, the large array of AAs and the primary nucleic acids (and the phosphate) shows natural production possibilities at the onset of chemical evolution.
not rated yet May 30, 2016
It also supports the theory that some comets originated from Earth.

Interesting hypothesis. Do we know any? 67P/C-G didn't. The article specifically talks about the comet Rosetta is orbiting.

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