The team from Imperial College London, the University of Kent and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have discovered that when icy comets collide into a planet, amino acids can be produced. These essential building blocks are also produced if a rocky meteorite crashes into a planet with an icy surface.
The researchers suggest that this process provides another piece to the puzzle of how life was kick-started on Earth, after a period of time between 4.5 and 3.8 billion years ago when the planet had been bombarded by comets and meteorites.
Dr Zita Martins, co-author of the paper from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says: "Our work shows that the basic building blocks of life can be assembled anywhere in the Solar System and perhaps beyond. However, the catch is that these building blocks need the right conditions in order for life to flourish. Excitingly, our study widens the scope for where these important ingredients may be formed in the Solar System and adds another piece to the puzzle of how life on our planet took root."
Dr Mark Price, co-author from the University of Kent, adds: "This process demonstrates a very simple mechanism whereby we can go from a mix of simple molecules, such as water and carbon-dioxide ice, to a more complicated molecule, such as an amino acid. This is the first step towards life. The next step is to work out how to go from an amino acid to even more complex molecules such as proteins."
The abundance of ice on the surfaces of Enceladus and Europa, which are moons orbiting Saturn and Jupiter respectively, could provide a perfect environment for the production of amino acids, when meteorites crash into their surface, say the researchers. Their work further underlines the importance of future space missions to these moons to search for signs of life.
The researchers discovered that when a comet impacts on a world it creates a shock wave that generates molecules that make up amino acids. The impact of the shock wave also generates heat, which then transforms these molecules into amino acids.
The team made their discovery by recreating the impact of a comet by firing projectiles through a large high speed gun. This gun, located at the University of Kent, uses compressed gas to propel projectiles at speeds of 7.15 kilometres per second into targets of ice mixtures, which have a similar composition to comets. The resulting impact created amino acids such as glycine and D-and L-alanine.
Senior Research Media Officer – Faculty of Engineering
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6712
Notes to editors
1. DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE PAPER
'Shock synthesis of amino acids from impacting cometary and icy planet surface analogues' published 15 September 2013, 2013 Nature Geoscience
The full listing of authors and their affiliations for this paper is as follows:
Zita Martins1, Mark C. Price2, Nir Goldman3, Mark A. Sephton1 and Mark J. Burchell2 1Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College London, SW7 2AZ, UK
2School of Physical Sciences, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NH, UK
3Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California 94550, USA
The following funding acknowledgements from the authors appear at the end of the paper:
We acknowledge financial support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Z. Martins is financially supported by the Royal Society.
2. About Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.
In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.
3. About the University of Kent
The University of Kent – the UK's European University – was established at Canterbury in 1965. It has almost 20,000 students and operates campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome. It has long-standing partnerships with more than 100 major European universities and many others across the world, including institutions in Argentina, China, Japan, USA, Canada, Malaysia and Peru.
Kent is one of the few universities to be consistently rated by its own students as one of the best in the UK for the quality of its teaching and academic provision. This includes its 3rd place for overall student satisfaction in the 2012 National Student Survey. It was also ranked 20th in the 2014 Guardian University Guide, 28th in the Sunday Times University League Table 2013, and 28th in the Complete University Guide 2014.
In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, Kent placed 24th out of 159 participating institutions in the UK for its world-leading research, while 97% of its academic staff work in schools or centres where the research is rated as either internationally or nationally excellent.
It is worth £0.6 billion to the economy of the South East, with its students contributing £211 million to that total. The University also supports directly or indirectly almost 6,800 jobs in the South East (source: Viewforth Consulting, 2009-10).
In 2012, Kent launched a campaign to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Colin Smith | Source: EurekAlert!
Further information: www.imperial.ac.uk
Further Reports about: amino acid > building block > Earth Science > Earth's magnetic field > Ferchau Engineering > Imperial > interdisciplinary collaboration > Nature Immunology > quality of life > shock wave > Solar Decathlon
More articles from Earth Sciences:
Upper Rio Grande Impact Assessment Reveals Potential Growing Gap in Water Supply and Demand
12.12.2013 | Bureau of Reclamation
NASA Reveals New Results From Inside the Ozone Hole
12.12.2013 | NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
A unique solar panel design made with a new ceramic material points the way to potentially providing sustainable power cheaper, more efficiently, and requiring less manufacturing time.
It also reaches a four-decade-old goal of discovering a bulk photovoltaic material that can harness energy from visible and infrared light, not just ultraviolet light.
Scaling up this new design from its tablet-size prototype to a full-size solar panel would be a large step toward making solar power affordable compared with ...
Atlantische Flohkrebse pflanzen sich jetzt auch in arktischen Gewässern fort
Biologen des Alfred-Wegener-Institutes, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung (AWI), haben zum ersten Mal nachgewiesen, dass sich in den arktischen Gewässern westlich Spitzbergens auch Flohkrebse aus dem wärmeren Atlantik fortpflanzen.
Diese überraschende Entdeckung deute auf einen möglichen Wandel der arktischen Zooplankton-Gemeinschaft hin, berichten die Wissenschaftler und Wissenschaftlerinnen in der Fachzeitschrift Marine Ecology ...
The molecular architecture of three key proteins and their complexes reveals how plants fine-tune their immune response to pathogens
Plants rarely get sick in their natural environment. When the threat of infection arises, a quick decision is made about the necessary countermeasures. The course is set by a protein which forms complexes with its partner proteins for this purpose.
Jane Parker from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding ...
Researchers studying speciation of butterfly orchids on the Azores have been startled to discover that the answer to a long-debated question "Do the islands support one species or two species?" is actually "three species".
Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, newly recognized following application of a battery of scientific techniques and reveling in a complex taxonomic history worthy of Sherlock Holmes, is arguably Europe's rarest orchid species. Under threat in its mountain-top retreat, the orchid urgently requires conservation recognition.
A lavishly illustrated publication, titled "Systematic revision of Platanthera in ...
Researchers from Brown University and the University of Hawaii have found some mineralogical surprises in the Moon's largest impact crater.
Data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter shows a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin.
The differing mineral signatures could be reflective of the minerals dredged up at the time of the giant impact 4 billion years ago, ...
12.12.2013 | Life Sciences
12.12.2013 | Earth Sciences
12.12.2013 | Studies and Analyses
11.12.2013 | Event News
10.12.2013 | Event News
05.12.2013 | Event News