Scientists have found a previously-unknown protein inside a meteorite which they believe may play a crucial role in seeding life on habitable planets like Earth.
The protein has been named hemolithin, and is made up of the amino acid glycine, and capped with iron, oxygen and lithium atoms at the ends.
Scientists from Harvard, PLEX Corporation and Bruker Scientific made the groundbreaking discovery when analyzing the Acfer 086 meteorite that was found in Algeria in 1990.
While all the components of this protein are already well known, this specific arrangement of them has never been seen before.
The discovery of hemolithin adds more weight to the theory that the building blocks of life came together in space and were delivered to Earth via the impacts of space rocks.
Many amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, have been previously discovered in meteorites and comets, along with amino acid precursors, sugars, and organic materials. But never before has a fully formed protein been found within a space rock.
The discovery of hemolithin doesn’t necessarily confirm extraterrestrial life, but it will help us to understand how life on Earth was formed, or how life could possibly be formed on other planets.
There are atom groupings at the tips of the protein, which form a type of iron oxide that can absorb photons of light and split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Model of the 2320 hemolithin molecule after MMFF energy minimization. Top: in space-filling mode; Center: ball and stick; Bottom: enlarged view of iron, oxygen and lithium termination. White = H; orange = Li; grey = C; blue = N; red = O and green = Fe. Hydrogen bonds are shown by dotted lines.
Julie McGeoch, an author of the study, told New Atlas:
“It is a good candidate molecule to split water thereby allowing it to represent a first energy source to chemistry, going on to biochemistry on the surface of planets like Earth in terms of their mass and distance from their sun. This could apply to planets throughout the Universe.”
This study has yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a journal, however you can take a look at the pre-print version on arXiv.