New research shows that peptides can form in cosmic dust thanks to quantum tunneling, and that they can reach Earth on comets and meteorites to enable early life forms to thrive.
A team of scientists has confirmed that life on Earth could be the result of a type of cosmic teleportation known as quantum tunneling.
Studies of ancient rock fossils indicate that life on Earth began about 4.4 billion years ago, when the first molecules formed in primordial liquid water.
However, the origin of life is full of secrets because we cannot explain how proteins, the basic pillars of life, arose, because they are made up of living cells.
And if there was no life before proteins, how could the chains of amino acids that make up them be formed? So far their origin has been searched for on Earth, but new research suggests that they could come directly from space.
Researchers from the University of Jena and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have discovered that peptides, which are short chains of amino acids (the molecules that make up proteins), can be generated in space from an unusual chemical reaction.
in cosmic dust
In a research paper published in Nature Astronomy, researchers led by Serge Krasnokotsky show that peptides, the molecular components of proteins, can spontaneously form into solid, frozen particles of cosmic dust that drift across the universe.
Thus, they believe that these peptides can travel inside comets and meteorites to young Earth, as well as to other worlds, becoming some of the starting materials for life.
Astronomers found amino acids in meteorites that fell to Earth and discovered glycine in a comet, along with ammonium salts and aliphatic compounds. The new research suggests that we can add peptides to the list of organic building blocks found naturally in space.
As Krasnokutski points out in a releaseThe discovery that peptides could be formed in space suggests that some spontaneously occurring processes in the universe could produce pre-biological components involved in the evolutionary process that led to life on our planet.
It is not evidence, like almost everything surrounding the origin of life, because it does not appear that these peptides survived the turbulent past of Earth formation, although it is considered a very strong hypothesis.
Another problem with assuming that peptides form in space is what we might call the energy barrier, which the researchers believe they have come up with an explanation for.
The energy barrier forms because molecules have more thermal energy when temperatures are higher than those in space: it is this warm environment that allows the atoms to form amino acids.
But in space, there is not enough temperature to generate life. The only way, according to the researchers, this could happen in space is thanks to quantum tunneling.
Quantum tunneling is a feature of elementary particles that allows them to pass through a tunnel, even though there is an insurmountable wall crisscrossing inside it.
Particles do this because they have a property unparalleled in the ordinary physical world: they can turn into waves for a while and then revert back to being particles.
this is Wave-particle duality They are the ones that allow the atoms to cross an obstacle as if they weren’t there. It’s something like going through walls as sound waves do, for example, and restoring a particle’s state once it crosses over to the other side.
This phenomenon is called tunnel effect Photosynthesis and nuclear fusion in the Sun or current electronics depend on this paradox in the quantum world.
The authors of the new research postulate that this is also the case when peptides are formed in the cold environment of space: particles can overcome the energy barrier and form amino acids under unusual circumstances, even if they do not have the energy to do so. .
Instead of providing more energy to the atoms, what nature does is teleport them beyond the energy barrier and allow them to form amino acids, even if the ambient temperature doesn’t allow it.
If this is really the case, then it means that life on Earth exists because of Particles can pass through active walls. This is how the amino acids we made were formed.
The researchers stress that this discovery highlights that peptides could be a more widely available resource throughout the universe than previously thought, a possibility that may also have consequences for the possibilities for life elsewhere in the universe.
This research is important because it has long been believed that life could only form on Earth due to its proximity to the Sun, something the new research does not argue with.
What he says about it rather is that the origin Life on Earth can have a cosmic component as well as a terrestrial component: Organic molecules formed in space, carried to Earth by meteorites and comets, would have provided the prebiotic building blocks necessary for the emergence of suitable life.
Life that has become complex over time, gained intelligence and that still wonders how such an evolutionary feat could have happened.
A pathway to peptides in space through atomic carbon condensation. SA Krasnokutski et al. The Nature of Astronomy Volume 6, pp. 381-386 (2022). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-021-01577-9
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