Peptides on Stardust May Have Provided a Shortcut to Life on Earth

Last month in Nature Astronomy, a group of astrobiologists showed that peptides, the molecular subunits of proteins, can spontaneously form on the solid, frozen particles of cosmic dust drifting through the universe. Those peptides could in theory have traveled inside comets and meteorites to the young Earth — and to other worlds — to become some of the starting materials for life.

The simplicity and favorable thermodynamics of this new space-based mechanism for forming peptides make it a more promising alternative to the known purely chemical processes that could have occurred on a lifeless Earth, according to Serge Krasnokutski, the lead author on the new paper and a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and the Friedrich Schiller University in Germany. And that simplicity “suggests that proteins were among the first molecules involved in the evolutionary process leading to life,” he said.

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