- Scientists claim to have found a protein molecule in two meteorite samples.
- They published their findings, which have yet to be peer-reviewed, February 22 on the preprint site ArXiv.
- Many astronomers believe the ingredients for life were brought to Earth by asteroids and meteorites.
A trio of scientists believe they've identified the very first protein from outer space. They found the proteins in two meteorite samples, the Allende meteorite and the Acfer 086 meteorites, which researchers previously discovered in Mexico in 1969 and Algeria in 1990, respectively. The scientists—who hail from Harvard University, PLEX Corporation, and Bruker Scientific—posted the research to the preprint server ArXiv on February 22.
Proteins were “discovered in Allende and Acfer 086 with extra-terrestrial isotope enhancement that confirmed that these unexpected molecules were not artifacts due to terrestrial contamination,” they wrote. They dubbed the protein, which is similar to proteins commonly found on Earth, hemolithin.
Naturally, we had the same question as you probably do: Does this mean we've found extraterrestrial life? Well, no. Proteins are among the ingredients for life. The organic molecules are made up of long strings of amino acids. But technically, they're not a sign of life as we know it.
At the moment, there isn’t a ton of information about this specific protein. The team isn’t sure where the protein came from, or under what conditions it formed. (They suspect it probably formed alongside the solar system.)
For nearly 50 years, researchers have been searching for and finding organic compounds like amino acids in meteorite samples—mostly carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. In 2012, NASA discovered amino acids in a carbonaceous meteorite, and in 2017, scientists found entirely new organic compounds in the famed Murchison meteorite. This is the first time scientists have discovered what amounts to an entire protein.
Scientists and astronomers have long hypothesized that the ingredients for life may have landed on an early Earth, piggybacked on meteorites and asteroids that smashed into the planet. Finding a tiny protein tucked in a meteorite would certainly lend weight to that theory.
You Might Also Like