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Space Earth NASA Science

NASA Discovers Life's Building Block In Comet 148

Posted by timothy
from the low-glycemic-index dept.
xp65 writes "NASA scientists have discovered glycine, a fundamental building block of life, in samples of comet Wild 2 returned by NASA's Stardust spacecraft. 'Glycine is an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, and this is the first time an amino acid has been found in a comet,' said Jamie Elsila of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. 'Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts.'"
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NASA Discovers Life's Building Block In Comet

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  • How sure? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Hammer (14284)

    Are we sure it is not an alien spaceship ?

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Speaking of which, how much energy would it take to me the entire EARTH a spaceship? Like completely knocking it out of the gravity well of the sun so that we could travel on it to another place. Of course we would have to do something about light for the plants and animals that are living here, but imagine creating a large reflector that we rotated around the entire earth and shine down light transmitted from the ground. We could have an entire planet as a spaceship, which might be useful if this sun st

  • by Falstaft (847466) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:06AM (#29105117)
    Strange, we think that a comet wiped out the dinosaurs, and yet another comet like this one could sustain the glycine-deficient dinosaurs at Jurassic Park!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Half-pint HAL (718102)

      That was lysine. Muppet.

      HAL.

    • by jerep (794296)

      I thought a comet like that was what gave life to earth in the very first place.. maybe this one is coming to replace humans with a more evolved species, this would be convenient.

    • There's a lot of carbon here and it likes to form bonds. Why can't we accept that amino acids formed independently here, away from comets and such? The theory of abiogenesis doesn't need a comet to bring us glycine. Occam's razor
  • Panspermia? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:07AM (#29105149)

    Or "space spooge" as the kids call it these days. So where'd that life come from?

  • Tin Foil Hat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BurzumNazgul (1163509) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:09AM (#29105189)
    'Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts.'

    It also supports the theory that some other planet full of life went *KA-BOOOM*

    Aliens of said planet are now patrolling the galaxy looking for the next M class planet to colonize.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Miros (734652) *
      Quick! We've got to try to render this planet as depleted and undesirable as possible as swiftly as we can...
    • by steelfood (895457)

      No, only that there's a high chance of life very similar to us existing on other earth-like planets. At least, similar in the sense that they are made of carbon-based proteins. They might not be intelligent, but at least they'll be edible.

      On the other hand, we might just end up being some research team's biosociology experiment.

      • Re:Tin Foil Hat (Score:5, Informative)

        by c6gunner (950153) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:48AM (#29106507)

        They might not be intelligent, but at least they'll be edible

        Actually, you're wrong there. As one example, life on earth is composed of right-handed sugars and and left-handed amino acids, but as far as we can tell there's no particular reason why that configuration had to happen - it was a random configuration which manifested early in the development of terrestrial life and spread to all existing species. This means we can only process food with that particular molecular makeup. Early artificial sweeteners took advantage of this fact - their manufacturers figured out how to make left-handed sugars which we could taste, but couldn't digest. In other words you can eat it and it won't cause you any harm, but you won't get any energy from it. What this means is that there would be, at best, only a 25% chance of us being able to use your hypothetical life-forms as a food source, and that's without having to worry about whether they provide us with the right vitamins/nutrients, what sorts of hormones and toxins might be in them, etc.

        • Re:Tin Foil Hat (Score:4, Interesting)

          by PinkyGigglebrain (730753) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @12:32PM (#29107167)
          And lets not forget that it would work both ways.

          If we can eat, and be nourished by, alien life then any bacterium from the same environment could use US as food as well.

          And even then alien predators would likely still TRY to eat us if they thought we might taste good, or could be used as incubators for their parasitic, chest busting, off-spring, or they might just want to hunt us for sport with plasma based weapons while using active-camo.
        • by tool462 (677306) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @01:11PM (#29107853)

          So what you're saying is that we only have a 25% chance of being able to digest the alien species, but a 75% chance of being able to use them as a calorie-free artificial sweetener?

          Queue the countdown to NutraSweet funding the SETI program in 3...2...1..

          • by bckrispi (725257)
            It's not just the sugars! You could have entire organisms with this structure. It's the Omicron Persii VIII Diet! Eat an entire cow, it's zero calories!
    • Aliens of said planet are now patrolling the galaxy looking for the next M class planet to colonize.

      I first read this as "colorize", and I think I like it better that way. Somewhere out there is a super-advanced race that couldn't care less about biospheres and intelligent races and such, but just really likes blues and greens a lot better than browns and reds.

      Call them the Turnerites.

  • The universe has delivery now? If only it'd get an internet presence I bet it'd really take off.

  • Again? (Score:3, Funny)

    by SnarfQuest (469614) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:13AM (#29105253)

    Don't they make a claim like this every other week? It isn't getting any more interesting. Elements of life found in an old pile of pancakes left behind in an abandoned nuclear power plant, now that would be interesting.

  • by ayahner (696000)

    So now we know

    • the building blocks of life can come in from external sources
    • Earth/Sun relationship isn't likely the "perfect" ecosystem for sustainence of carbon based organic life forms

    Obviously, the discovery of sentient life "abroad" is going to be anticlimactic now.

    Way to ruin it.

    • by Em Emalb (452530)

      We're also assuming that any "alien" life form must come from the same "building blocks" that life as we know it does.

      Who says this must be this way? For all I know, the building block of life on planet X-471 could be oil-stained pizza boxes.

  • Just comets. Now get back to work Mulder.
  • somebody at NASA had a fatty burger for lunch
  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycine formula is NH2-CH2-CO-OH
    It's not that complicated. Shouldn't we be waiting to get excited about something more complex?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ae1294 (1547521)

      It's not that complicated. Shouldn't we be waiting to get excited about something more complex?

      Yeah, I'm waiting for: 'Scientist find building blocks for taco's in comet, decide to build lunch.'

  • Panspermia (Score:2, Informative)

    by Icegryphon (715550)
    Adama: "Life here began out there." These are the first words of the Sacred Scrolls...
  • by Big Hairy Ian (1155547) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:21AM (#29105367)
    but the prime constituent of the soya bean got their 1st. Just one small fart for man one giant harumph for mankind

    What's all this I must wait & try again stuff about did someone /. /.?
  • Didn't you start life on a planet in Spore with a comet?

    Maybe we are all part of a gigantic video game like spore?
    Maybe the "gamer" is a gigantic A.I. person?
    Maybe The Matrix is real??

    • I dreamt last night that I was a butterfly, and I had no idea that I was me. Then, my world shifted, and I thought I woke up, finding me to be myself and not a butterfly. But perhaps I am a butterfly, and I'm just dreaming...
  • by Xest (935314)

    It's quite amusing to think of all the games and sci-fi plots that have been based around alien life forms landing on a planet and taking it over in the context of this theory, because, well, if true, then we're those alien life forms, the only thing we're missing from most plots is a hive mind!

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by jeffshoaf (611794) *

      only thing we're missing from most plots is a hive mind!

      Don't Rush Limbaugh fans qualify?

    • Whatever we may be missing, it isn't hive mentality. As Monty Python (in "Life of Brian") put it:

      Brian: Please, please, please listen! I've got one or two things to say.
      The Crowd: Tell us! Tell us both of them!
      Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't NEED to follow ME, You don't NEED to follow ANYBODY! You've got to think for your selves! You're ALL individuals!
      The Crowd: Yes! We're all individuals!
      Brian: You're all different!
      The Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!
      Man in crowd: I'm not...
      The Crowd: Sc

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:41AM (#29105609) Journal
    Glycine is the only thing they are willing to admit. NASA believes the world is not in a position to digest, (ha, ha) the more significant finding in the comet: High Fructose Corn Syrup.
  • Glycine is simple... (Score:5, Informative)

    by cfa22 (1594513) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:44AM (#29105659)
    Glycine is the simplest amino acid, and it the only one that lacks a chiral center on the alpha carbon. Of the four groups attached in a tetrahedral arrangement to the alpha carbon, two are hydrogen atoms. In all other amino acids, one of the two hydrogens of glycines is replaced by a distinct functional group. The really interesting thing about biologically used amino acids is that it is always the same hydrogen of the two that is replaced -- all the 19 non-glycine amino acids are so-called "L-stereoisomers." Discovery of any one of the 19 amino acids other than glycine in a comet would be quite a story, and it would be even more surprising if there were a mixture of "L" and "D" stereoisomers other than 50/50. My bet is that if another amino acid is found in cometary debris, it is asparagine, since it can form by the reaction 2*glycine - water.
  • Great!
    So Spore was actually right.
    Now i can let my son play spore and help him learn that life came from comets and that we ought to smash each others heads to become civilized.

  • Seriously...

    Apparently they can't be bothered to pick up a textbook and learn that Redi and Pasteur proved it doesn't work like that a couple hundred years ago.
    It's call the law of biogenesis.
    Stop spending tax dollars trying to prove your Theory when there is already a scientific law disproving it.
    If you want to spend your own money on it fine, just stop spending mine on your junk 'science.'

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jj110888 (791178)
      Apparently they can't be bothered to pick up a textbook and learn that Redi and Pasteur proved it doesn't work like that a couple hundred years ago.
      It's call the law of biogenesis.
      Stop spending tax dollars trying to prove your Theory when there is already a scientific law disproving it.


      Because, you know, a scientific "law" is the absolute truth........
      Wikipedia happens to say that the law of biogenesis is "that modern organisms do not spontaneously arise in nature from non-life." Really, what makes y
      • Aside from a creationist perspective, you need some kind of abiogenic beginning, and this research helps us understand how this might take place.

        In case you missed the posts farther down, I did finally get him to acknowledge that his "theory" is that God did it. The most amusing part is that he goes on to complain that there's no objective proof against his claim.

    • Seriously...

      Apparently they can't be bothered to pick up a textbook and learn that Redi and Pasteur proved it doesn't work like that a couple hundred years ago. It's call the law of biogenesis. Stop spending tax dollars trying to prove your Theory when there is already a scientific law disproving it. If you want to spend your own money on it fine, just stop spending mine on your junk 'science.'

      Would you mind stating what "it" you're referring to? Are you trying to say that it's physically impossible for glycine to form outside of a living organism?

  • Anyone familiar with The Big Bang Theory will not be surprised by this finding. I bet they did not find any traces of peanuts, though.
  • Faulty Logic? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by psnyder (1326089) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:21AM (#29106141)
    Maybe I'm missing something (and point it out if I am) but from what I'm reading this does NOT support what Dr. Elsila is saying in the article:

    "Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts."

    Instead it only supports what Dr. Pilcher says in the article:

    "The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare."

    In other words, it's just saying that amino acids are not that rare. If they're not that rare, why can't Earth have made them on it's own?

    After all the Miller/Urey experiment [duke.edu] in 1953 showed that amino acids can be produced fairly easily if a few simple conditions are met.

    Miller took molecules which were believed to represent the major components of the early Earth's atmosphere and put them into a closed system

    The gases they used were methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), hydrogen (H2), and water (H2O). Next, he ran a continuous electric current through the system, to simulate lightning storms believed to be common on the early earth. Analysis of the experiment was done by chromotography. At the end of one week, Miller observed that as much as 10-15% of the carbon was now in the form of organic compounds. Two percent of the carbon had formed some of the amino acids which are used to make proteins.

    Maybe comets and meteors with amino acids were hitting earth as well. But finding them all over space also strengthens the idea that they're not uncommon to produce, and therefore also strengthens the theory that Earth could have produced them by itself. Either way seems like a guess to me.



    Fun fact for the day: The Murchison meteorite [wikipedia.org] which fell in Australia in 1969 also contained common amino acids such as glycine, alanine and glutamic acid as well as unusual ones like isovaline and pseudoleucine.

    • This is exactly what I was thinking.

      Which means that if what Dr. Elsila claims is true, Earth would have been bombarded by an insane number of comets to deliver enough amino acids to the area where life began. (Assuming that comet distribution across the surface of the Earth was somewhat random and not totally localized.)

      There's still the problem of the life form being able to create its own amino acids, so a lot would have to 'fall from the sky' until the ability to synthesize them evolved.

      At least, this w

      • by Luyseyal (3154)

        It doesn't have to be bombarded, though. Dust falls into the atmosphere all the time. It doesn't burn up on reentry because it doesn't have enough mass.

        -l

    • by evilviper (135110)

      If they're not that rare, why can't Earth have made them on it's own?

      Comets operate on incredibly long time-scales... A comet may be many times older than the Earth.

      Therefore any chemical reactions which could happen, are therefore many times more likely to have happened in various comets, than locally.



  • ...the Galaxy's sperm...
  • I would first suspect contamination of test equipment before announcing a "discovery" of protein building blocks on a comet. Think about it. The gas collection equipment was built on earth, taken to space, used to collect some gas from comet's tail and brought back to earth and inspected by scientists in a lab.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      You're a genius! I'm sure no one considered that and took any precautions.

    • by psnyder (1326089)
      The article spends 3 paragraphs on that! I don't know whether to laugh or cry. It's not a long article (>_<)

      Earlier, preliminary analysis in the Goddard labs detected glycine in both the foil and a sample of the aerogel. However, since glycine is used by terrestrial life, at first the team was unable to rule out contamination from sources on Earth. "It was possible that the glycine we found originated from handling or manufacture of the Stardust spacecraft itself," said Elsila. The new research used isotopic analysis of the foil to rule out that possibility.

      Isotopes are versions of an element with diffehttp://science.slashdot.org/story/09/08/18/1357243/NASA-Discovers-Lifes-Building-Block-In-Comet#rent weights or masses; for example, the most common carbon atom, Carbon 12, has six protons and six neutrons in its center (nucleus). However, the Carbon 13 isotope is heavier because it has an extra neutron in its nucleus. A glycine molecule from space will tend to have more of the heavier Carbon 13 atoms in it than glycine thatâ(TM)s from Earth. That is what the team found. âoeWe discovered that the Stardust-returned glycine has an extraterrestrial carbon isotope signature, indicating that it originated on the comet,â said Elsila.

      The team includes Daniel Glavin and Jason Dworkin of NASA Goddard. "Based on the foil and aerogel results it is highly probable that the entire comet-exposed side of the Stardust sample collection grid is coated with glycine that formed in space," adds Glavin.

  • Well, if it can form on that small comet, then it can also form on that much much bigger "comet" circling the sun, called "Earth".

    I wonder if it hurts to make up such a dumb argument as the original one.

  • Hoffa? (Score:2, Funny)

    by crrkrieger (160555)

    When I first read the headline, I saw "NASA Discovers Life's Building Blocks in Cement". I figured they had found Jimmy Hoffa.

  • Space sperm.

  • You won't find any life there (certainly not intelligent, and probably nothing that qualifies at all)

  • "Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts.'"

    Your discovery also supports the theory that outer space is actually composed of cheeseburgers. Supporting a theory means nothing. Proving a theory is everything.
  • No direct proof (Score:3, Informative)

    by glitch23 (557124) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @05:55PM (#29111997)

    'Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts.'"

    Again guys, you are filling in gaps with information that fits your ideal world and to support other theories but there is no direct evidence that events happened this way. There is no direct evidence that glycine can survive the impact or that it actually was transferred from space-borne objects. Example: A 30 year old brown-haired person lives in San Francisco and another one who is 50 years old lives in New York. Does that mean the one in San Francisco is the offspring (and therefore related) of the one in New York either because the person in New York traveled to San Francisco then had a child or had a child then the child moved to and grew up in San Francisco? Yeah it can mean that but without asking the people involved or seeing it happen first-hand you can't just fill in the blanks and assume you are correct. We obviously can't ask glycine where it came from so we have to see it first-hand be transferred from a comet/meteorite to Earth and remain intact and viable before we can really say for sure that supports the theory that life's ingredients came from out of this world. Something generic like 2 samples of glycine or 2 brown-haired people are too generic to conclude they are related, but feel free to make that gross assumption anyway to fit theories of evolution.

  • /begin language police/ Glycemic = glyc = glucose + heme (blood), i.e. the amount of glucose in the blood. Glycine = an amino acid that is not glucose. You were thinking of the, uh, glycinic index?
    /end language police/

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