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Life in the universe takes orders from space

A century ago, when biologists used to talk about the primordial soup from which all life on Earth came, they probably never imagined from how far away the ingredients may have come. Recent findings have the origins of life reaching far out from what was once considered "the home planet." Evolution on the early Earth may have been influenced by some pretty far-out stuff.

In a paper published this week in the journal Science, Arizona State University Chemistry Professor Sandra Pizzarello claims that materials from as far away as the interstellar media could possibly have played an active role in establishing the chemistry involved in the origin of life on this planet.

In the paper, Pizarello and her co-author Arthur L. Weber of the SETI Institute show that the exclusive chirality of the proteins and sugars of life on Earth - their tendency to be left- or right-handed, could in fact be due to the chemical contribution of the countless meteorites that struck the planet during its early history. This paper provides a plausible explanation for how, with a little help from outside, the chemistry of non-life - characterized by randomness and complexity - becomes the ordered and specific chemistry of life.

Pizzarello studies meteorites and the chemicals housed within them. A particular type of meteorite - carbonaceous chondrites - holds particular interest. Carbonaceous chondrites are very primitive, stony meteorites that contain organic carbon. These meteorites are rare, but also very exciting for chemists interested in the origins of life on Earth and in the solar system. They contain amino acids - the molecules that make up proteins, and an essential part of the chemistry of life.

According to Pizzarello, it has been known for the last century that there are large amounts of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen - the so-called biogenic elements - in the cosmos. And that it is reasonable to assume that these elements might have undergone some amo
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Contact: James Hathaway
Hathaway@asu.edu
480-965-6375
Arizona State University
19-Feb-2004


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