Topics: Astrobiology, Biology, Chemistry, Cosmology
The origin of life is one of the great unanswered questions in science. One piece of this puzzle is that life started on Earth 4.5 billion years ago, just a few hundred million years after the formation of the Solar System, and involved numerous critical molecular components. How did all these components come to be available so quickly?
One potential explanation is that the Earth was seeded from space with the building blocks for life. The idea is that space is filled with clouds of gas and dust that contain all the organic molecules necessary for life.
Indeed, astronomers have observed these buildings blocks in interstellar gas clouds. They can see amino acids, the precursors of proteins, and the machinery of life. They can also see the precursors of ribonucleotides, molecules that can store information in the form of DNA.
But there is another crucial component for life – molecules that can form membranes capable of encapsulating and protecting the molecules of life in compartments called protocells. On Earth, the membranes of all cells are made of molecules called phospholipids. But these have never been observed in space. Until now.
First evidence of cell membrane molecules in space, Physics arXiv blog, Astronomy