Life on earth started by … comets?

Here at Cal, we like to tackle the big questions. After all, we are one of the world’s premier research universities. Continuing with this tradition, UC Berkeley scientists are now attempting to answer one of the biggest questions in existence: how did life on earth begin? Told you it was a big question.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Where did I come from?” Or maybe, “Where did my dog come from?” Of course you have. Well, prepare to add another bullet point to your list of possible explanations: comets.

It’s been suggested that comets may have played a role in catalyzing life on Earth (you can read more about that project here). But recently, the comet explanation has stepped into the limelight, thanks to new evidence uncovered by, you guessed it, UC Berkeley scientists (and some other people).

Chemists from Cal and the University of Hawaii, Manoa, have continued researching the possibility that dipeptides (which are just linked pairs of amino acids) can be created in space. They conducted an experiment which involved creating their own miniature comet, placing it in simulated space conditions and zapping it with high energy electrons in order to discover if the reaction resulted in the creation of dipeptides. And it did. Why is this significant? Because dipeptides are one of the building blocks of life. Yeah, yeah, we know you don’t want a flashback to AP Bio. We’re almost done.

Basically, their research suggests that these dipeptides could have formed in space, landed on a piece of galactic dust, which in turn would latch itself onto a comet headed straight for Earth. UC Berkeley chemist Richard Mathies stated that, “It is fascinating to consider that the most basic biochemical building blocks that led to life on Earth may well have had an extraterrestrial origin.” We think it’s pretty fascinating too.

Contact Sabrina Werts at [email protected]

Image Source: Michael Karrer, under Creative Commons