A mind-blowing discovery of one of the building blocks of life - protein - inside a meteorite is touted by scientists as potentially able to alter our vision of life’s origins.
In a study, “Hemolithin: a Meteoritic Protein containing Iron and Lithium”, that is yet to be peer-reviewed, and was first posted on preprint server ArXiv on 22 February, scientists claim to have come across protein inside two meteorites that they surmise spent millions of years hurtling through space.
In a joint effort by researchers from Harvard University, superconductor firm Plex Corporation, and science-supplier Bruker Scientific evidence of a protein was discovered inside space rocks that slammed into Earth on the territory of present-day Algeria.
Research Associate at Harvard University and the paper’s author J Julie McGeoch and her colleagues drilled into the meteorite with sanitized tools to collect powder from inside Acfer 086 and Allende meteorites, subsequently mixing it in various liquids, including water and chloroform.
The liquid suspensions then had a laser fired into them to render them gaseous, after which a process called “mass spectrometry” was applied. The latter entails bombarding the samples with electrons to break up the molecules for further analysis.
The study showed that inside the meteorite was a so-called “hemolithin protein” made up mostly of glycine and amino acids.
In a first for proteins, the current one had “caps” at both ends composed of oxygen, lithium and iron.
“Protein is a good indicator of possible life,” Gilbert Levin, a former NASA scientist was quoted by The Daily Beast as saying.
If the meteorite arrived on Earth with a “payload of protein”, it could feed into the theory that processes that result in life could exist beyond our planet, as scientists have been finding organic compounds like amino acids in meteorite samples before —mostly in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites.
Some scientists and astronomers have hypothesized that ingredients for life may have been brought to Earth on meteorites and asteroids that smashed into the planet.
Thus, in 2017 scientists found entirely new organic compounds in the Murchison meteorite that fell in Australia in 1969.
However, this new study claims to be the first time scientists have discovered what amounts to an entire protein.
However, some scientists are skeptical about the research.
John Rummel, a scientist with the California-based SETI Institute, is quoted by The Daily Beast as suggesting the protein in the Algerian meteorite could have found its way into the space rock after it had hit Earth.
The scientist cited French research that pointed to meteorites hitting the desert capable of imbibing contaminants on Earth after just 24 hours of being exposed to them.
The Harvard team behind the latest study has vowed to elaborate more on their research after more experts have studied their initial findings.