A joint team of researchers from the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have found a new clue to the mystery of the origin of life. Scientists conducted an experiment and proved that peptides can form in outer space.
The study was published in the journal Nature Astronomy and briefly described on the website of the University of Jena. The aim of the new study was to test whether peptides could form on the surface of dust under conditions similar to those that prevail in outer space.
These molecules are one of the basic “building blocks” of all life. Peptides consist of individual amino acids arranged in a certain order and perform various functions in the body – they “transport” substances, speed up reactions, form stabilizing scaffolds in cells, etc. The specific properties of peptides are influenced by the order of amino acids.
Until recently, it was believed that peptides were formed on Earth, and this was the main reason for the emergence of life. Recently, however, more and more hypotheses have been heard that these molecules could have appeared not at all on our planet, but, for example, in cosmic molecular clouds.
In a new study, scientists conducted an experiment. They have recreated in the laboratory the conditions that prevail in cosmic molecular clouds.
Chemicals such as carbon, ammonia, and carbon monoxide are present on dust particles in a vacuum. An ultra-high vacuum chamber served as a model, in which these substances were brought to the surface of dust particles at a certain pressure and temperature.
“Studies have shown that under these conditions, the peptide polyglycine was formed from simple chemicals,” says Dr. Serge Krasnokutsky, lead author of the study. “Thus, chains of the very simple amino acid glycine were obtained. We observed their different lengths. The longest samples consisted of eleven amino acid units.”
In a word, the experiment proved that not only amino acids, but also peptide chains can be created in space conditions. This discovery provides a new key to understanding the origin of life on Earth.