The research was led by physicist Malcolm McGeoch of superconductor X-ray source supplier PLEX Corporation. It was not yet published, and there are still debates, but scientists are optimistic that they have found the first extraterrestrial protein in the world.
The sample containing the unknown trace of life is in a meteorite called Acfer 086. The meteorite was found in Algeria in 1990, and it was recently tested with the “state-of-the-art” mass spectrometry.
The team found a glycine amino acid bound with other elements, such as iron and lithium. The glycine was found to be part of a protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Each amino acid has a unique sidechain, except for glycine. The believed-to-be protein was called hemolithin, and it is consistent with long-period comets. Scientists say that it was possibly formed in the proto-solar disc, over 4.6 billion years ago.
“So, we’re pretty sure that proteins are likely to exist in space. But if we can actually start finding evidence of their existence, and what some of the structures and the common structures might be, I think that’s really interesting and exciting,” said astronomer and chemist Chenoa Tremblay of CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science in Australia.
Scientists are not quite sure if they found an extraterrestrial protein or just a polymer
Still, the researchers fear that the protein might prove to be only a polymer. Proteins are large biomolecules consisting of one or more long chains of amino acid residues.
Proteins perform a vast array of functions within organisms, including catalyzing metabolic reactions, DNA replication, responding to stimuli, providing structure to cells, and organisms, and transporting molecules from one location to another.
Proteins differ from one another primarily in their sequence of amino acids. A polymer is a large molecule, or macromolecule, composed of many repeated subunits. Polymers are of two types: naturally occurring and synthetic or human-made. Natural polymeric materials are hemp, shellac, amber, wool, silk, and natural rubber. Cellulose is also a polymer.
The list of synthetic polymers includes polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, synthetic rubber, Bakelite, neoprene, nylon, polyacrylonitrile, PVB, silicone, and many more.