A recent study by scientists at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy found that peptides can form in situations that are similar to outer space.
The origins of life on Earth
What is the significance of life on Earth? Its arguably one of the wormhole questions that you avoid pondering too much before bedtime, as it can lead to a constant cycle of questioning.
Perhaps the most important conclusion is to consider: What is life, from a molecular perspective? Cells have unique and specific functions across the various categories of biological existence. These functions are performed by the cells'' workhorses, the proteins that are expressed.
The central dogma, which describes proteins'' formation via DNA to mRNA and the translation of mRNA to amino acids, peptides, and proteins.
Each living biological entity is the sum of its biomolecular building blocks. But where did these biomolecular building blocks come from in the first place? Our planet, or beyond?
According to Dr. Serge Krasnokutski, a physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy at the University of Jena, there is no clear understanding of how peptides and other biopolymers were first formed. Although it is common that several minerals may play a role, it is not known what the first molecules of existence were.
When meteorites hit the Earths surface, a previous study of meteoritic substances demonstrates the presence of amino acids, sugars, and nucleobases. Consequently, a potential extraterrestrial source of life was examined, where biomolecules were transported to our planet. However, a barrier to this hypothesis was that the interactions underlying peptide formation the polymerization of amino acids must be performed at specific levels, assumed to be of Earthly origin. However, if there was another method to create
Krasnokutski is the lead author of a new research, published in Nature Astronomy, that demonstrates a novel path for peptide formation. It can be found on dust particles in a laboratory environment that mimics outer space.
A new way for peptide formation
The formation of peptides has a biochemical reaction that connects one amino acid to the other''s carboxyl group. This reaction creates a water molecule, has a high energy barrier, and is therefore improbable even at elevated temperatures, never mind the temperatures in space.
Quantum chemical calculations suggest that the amino acid glycine the simplest amino acid might be formed by combining a chemical precursor (amino ketene) with a water molecule.
Unlike other techniques, the formation of a peptide requires the addition of a water component to produce the amino acid from its precursor, but the subsequent removal of a water component to construct the peptide. Hence, Krasnokutski wanted to see if there was a detour route that might be taken, based on dust particles in a vacuum, where thecorresponding chemicals are present in abundance: carbon, ammonia, and carbon monoxide.
Polyglycine monomers aminoketene molecules formed after being condensed on the surface of cosmic dust. Encounters between these aminoketene molecules subsequently resulted in their polymerization and the production of the peptide polyglycine.
According to Krasnokutski, the major discovery is that amino acids are more powerful to form, and more easily polymerize. This technique is particularly useful for molecular clouds and protoplanetary disks.
This research has significant implications for studying the beginnings of life, whether it be on Earth or extraterritorially. However, Krasnokutski warns that there is still so much that we do not know about this new chemical path.
A relatively short glycine peptide, which was previously called proteins, was discovered at low temperatures. However, they were completely spontaneous at low temperatures. Adding energetic photons, as seen in the interstellar medium, or adding other chemicals that might be used as catalysts or contribute to the reaction, according to Krasnokutski.