Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Cosmic Factory for Making Building Blocks of Life

Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013
Bookmark and Share
Research published in the journal Nature Geoscience details the discovery of a 'cosmic factory' for producing amino acids.

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. 

An interview with Dr Zita Martins can be found in Technology Networks blogs

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,600+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Discovery of Trigger for Bugs’ Defences Could Lead to New Antibiotics
New research shows that sigma54 holds a bacterium’s defences back until it encounters stress.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Breakthrough Could Lead to New Antibiotics
Scientists have exposed a chink in the armour of disease-causing bugs, with a new discovery about a protein that controls bacterial defences.
Friday, August 21, 2015
New Genetic Form of Obesity and Diabetes Discovered
Scientists have discovered a new inherited form of obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Protein That Boosts Immunity to Viruses and Cancer Discovered
Researchers now developing a gene therapy designed to boost the infection-fighting cells.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Biomarker Discovery Sheds New Light on Heart Attack Risk of Arthritis Drugs
Drug may be given a new lease of life.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
First Pictures of BRCA2 Protein Show How it Works to Repair DNA
Researchers purified the protein and used electron microscopy to reveal its structure.
Thursday, October 09, 2014
Protein ‘Map’ Could Lead to Potent New Cancer Drugs
Findings will help scientists to design drugs that could target NMT enzyme.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
New Developments in Big, Open Access Data for Dementia
Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged a UK commitment to discover new drugs and treatment that could slow down the on-set of dementia or even deliver a cure by 2025.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
New Discovery Gives Hope that Nerves Could be Repaired After Spinal Cord Injury
Research highlights the role of a protein called P300/CBP-associated factor.
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
Scientists Design Protein to Prevent Prostate Cancer Cell Growth
New protein blocks the hormone receptors and consequently stops cancer cells from growing in the laboratory.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Designer Protein to Prevent Prostate Cancer Cell Growth
Researchers are creating a "designer" protein that could be effective at treating prostate cancer when other therapies fail.
Friday, January 17, 2014
New Clues to How Bacteria Evade Antibiotics
Scientists have made an important advance in understanding how a subset of bacterial cells escape being killed by many antibiotics.
Friday, January 10, 2014
Scientists Develop Tools to Make More Complex Biological Machines from Yeast
Researchers have demonstrated way of creating a new type of biological "wire", using proteins that interact with DNA.
Monday, March 19, 2012
"Popeye" Proteins Help the Heart Adapt to Stress
Study help scientists to develop new treatments for abnormal heart rhythms.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Faulty Molecular Switch Can Cause Infertility or Miscarriage
ICL researchers discovered that womb lining in women with unexplained infertility had high levels of the enzyme SGK1.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Scientific News
Key to Natural Detoxifier’s Reactivity Discovered
Results have implications for health, drug design and chemical synthesis.
New Protein Found in Immune Cells
Immunobiologists from the University of Freiburg discover Kidins220/ARMS in B cells and demonstrate its functions.
Cell's Waste Disposal System Regulates Body Clock Proteins
New way to identify interacting proteins could identify potential drug targets.
How a Molecular Motor Untangles Protein
Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and prion diseases, all involve “tangled” proteins.
Compound Doubles Up On Cancer Detection
Researchers have found that tagging a pair of markers found almost exclusively on a common brain cancer yields a cancer signal that is both more obvious and more specific to cancer.
How Cell Growth Triggers Cell Division
Researchers in Jan Skotheim's lab have discovered a previously unknown mechanism that controls how large cells grow, an insight that could one day provide insight into attacking diseases such as cancer.
Probing the Forces Involved in Creating The Mitotic Spindle
Scientists at The Rockefeller University reveal new insights into the mechanical forces that govern elements of the mitotic spindle formation.
Identifying Cancer’s Food Sensors May Help to Halt Tumour Growth
Oxford University researchers have identified a protein used by tumours to help them detect food supplies. Initial studies show that targeting the protein could restrict cancerous cells’ ability to grow.
Specific Variations in RNA Splicing Linked to Breast Cancer
Researchers have identified cellular changes that may play a role in converting normal breast cells into tumors. Targeting these changes could potentially lead to therapies for some forms of breast cancer.
Thousands of Protein Interactions Identified
Thanks to the work by Utrecht University researcher Fan Liu and her colleagues, it is now possible to map the interactions between proteins in human cells.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,600+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos