Life on earth

Life on earth

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Sunday, 19th March 2023
Page No. 17
Chennai Print Edition

Has the substance that may have sparked life on earth identified?

A team of Rutgers scientists dedicated to pinpointing the primordial origins of metabolism has identified part of a protein that could provide scientists clues to detecting planets on the verge of producing life (Science Advances).

This has important implications in the search for extraterrestrial life because it gives researchers a new clue to look for. Based on laboratory studies, Rutgers scientists said that one of the most likely chemical candidates that kick-started life was a simple peptide with two nickel atoms, they are calling “Nickelback”, because its backbone nitrogen atoms bond two critical nickel atoms.

Nickel, they reasoned, was an abundant metal in early oceans. When bound to the peptide, the nickel atoms become potent catalysts, attracting additional protons and electrons and producing hydrogen gas.

Hydrogen, the researchers said, was also more abundant on early earth and would have been a critical source of energy to power metabolism.

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