Amino acids have been found in interstellar clouds and in meteorites – but with some enigmatic omissions and tantalizing similarities to life on Earth. Just why some amino acids are present in meteorites and others are absent, and why they seem to prefer the same "left-handed" molecular structure as Earths living amino acids are questions that could unravel one of the most fundamental questions of science: Where and how did life begin?
"The bottom line is that you have these materials that come from space," says Steve Macko, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Macko refers specifically to eight of the amino acids found in a certain kind of meteorite – a carbonaceous chondrite. All eight amino acids are identical to those used by life on Earth. That could seem to point to a cosmic origin of these basic biological building blocks, says Macko. The case is bolstered by the fact that early Earth was bombarded with meteorites and the amino acid glycine has been detected on interstellar molecular clouds.
The implications and enigmas of extraterrestrial amino acids will be detailed at a special session celebrating the life and work of the late Glenn Goodfriend, on Monday, Nov. 3, 2003, at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Seattle, WA.
Ann Cairns | EurekAlert!
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