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Chemistry of life in outer space is topic of two-day symposium, April 4-5

Papers in this symposium are only embargoed until date and time of presentation

SAN DIEGO - A two-day symposium at the 221st national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, will explore the current hypothesis that the chemical precursors of life originated in outer space, not on Earth as previously thought.

The famous Miller-Urey experiments of the 1950s assumed that early Earth was replete with water and atmospheric gases such as hydrogen, methane and ammonia, much as Jupiter is today. Scientists now suspect, however, that early Earth lacked these favorable conditions - making the "primordial soup" much harder to cook.

Instead, researchers are investigating the likelihood that meteorites and dust from comets and asteroids brought water, gases and even organic compounds such as amino acids to Earth. These extraterrestrial hitchhikers may have "seeded" Earth and played a role in the origin of life on our planet.

Highlights of the symposium include:

Biochemistry of interstellar ices - Max Bernstein, Ph.D., of NASA's Ames Research Center, will discuss the effects of ultraviolet light and cosmic rays on ices found between the stars in space. He also will discuss the formation of quinones, compounds essential to life on Earth, in outer space. (The paper on this research, GEOC 144, will be presented at 1:35 p.m., Wednesday, April 4, in the U.S. Grant hotel, Crystal room.)

Effect of UV radiation on amino acids - Pascale Ehrenfreund, Ph.D., of the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, has found that amino acids degrade readily when exposed to ultraviolet radiation. This places constraints on the number of amino acids that can survive in some regions of space. (The paper on this research, GEOC 146, will be presented at 2:15 p.m., Wednesday, April 4, in the U.S. Grant hotel, Crystal room.)

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Contact: Charmayne Marsh
202-872-4445
American Chemical Society
5-Apr-2001


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