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UH scientists uncover evidence comets helped spark life on Earth

By Marcie Kagawa

LAST UPDATED: 12:14 p.m. HST, Mar 06, 2013

Local scientists have uncovered new evidence that comets or meteorites could have helped create life on Earth.

A team of chemists from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of California, Berkeley, found that complex dipeptides, or linked pairs of amino acids that form proteins, enzymes and other complex molecules, could have been created on icy interstellar dust that is a precursor to comets.

“Everyone knew so far that amino acids could be produced in outer space and scientists also found them in meteorites,” said Ralf Kaiser, professor of chemistry at UH-Manoa and a coauthor of the study. Up till now, scientists had only found one kind of dipeptide in a meteorite.

That led some scientists to believe that complex dipeptides were formed after amino acids were delivered to Earth from space.

However, Kaiser said, “There has been no consensus that the amino acids, once delivered to Earth, could form dipeptides or more complex polypeptides since these amino acids are likely too diluted in the ocean. Based on our experiments, a more likely scenario is that dipeptides could have been delivered from outer space rather than being formed on Earth”

Kaiser and UH-Manoa postdoctoral fellow Seol Kim set out to see if complex dipeptides could be formed from amino acids in an environment mimicking the conditions of interstellar space.

“It has been known that amino acids can be formed by ionizing radiation, so what we were trying to do is use these simple molecules, irradiate them, and see if biologically significant molecules could be formed,” Kaiser said.

From 2011 to 2012, Kaiser and Kim simulated interstellar grains, silicate- and/or carbon-based nano particles covered with hundreds of layers of condensed molecules referred to as ice, and zapped them with high-energy electrons to simulate the ionizing radiation of cosmic rays. When zapped, chemicals, like carbon dioxide, ammonia and methane, on the grains reacted to form dipeptides.

UC-Berkeley scientists then analyzed the molecules from the cooled irradiated grains and found nine different amino acids and at least two dipeptides.

Kaiser said the findings from this study “might change the thinking that dipeptides can be directly seeded to Earth from outer space.”

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richw66 wrote:
life created on Earth comes from GOD!
on March 6,2013 | 11:46AM
Kawipoo wrote:
You are right. The earth is only 6000 years old and stars were created after the earth. What do scientists know! The bible gave us insight on how to build planes, computers, cell phones, etc. Science had nothing to do with it. We are at the center of the universe because we are the most important thing in the universe. We came from Adam and Eve who were created from the earth. Why on earth would anybody not believe that this is not true.
on March 6,2013 | 03:27PM
Nevadan wrote:
The bible was written by humans who erroneously believed the earth was the center of the universe. You guys give god and the bible a bad name.
on March 6,2013 | 10:50PM
Ronin006 wrote:
Headline says “UH scientists uncover evidence comets helped spark life on Earth,” a statement of fact. However, the story says “could have helped create life on earth.” The story also says the study was conducted by a team of chemists from the University of Hawaii and Manoa and the University of California, Berkeley. The headline is very misleading and an example of poor journalism.
on March 6,2013 | 12:18PM
Honto5 wrote:
I totally agree. Very, very misleading.....from "UNCOVER EVIDENCE"......to..... "COULD HAVE". "Evidence" means you have infallible PROOF to substantiate your claim. "Could Have"... means you only have a theory.....and they're too many theories on how life began on Earth to go around.
on March 6,2013 | 01:05PM
Matthew wrote:
Uhh . . . that is NOT what "evidence" means. Any piece of evidence is merely a part of a package used in an attempt to substantiate a claim or theory, but does not by itself represent the truth of the matter. Hence, the writer's use of the phrases, "could have helped," and “might change the thinking."
on March 6,2013 | 02:39PM
inverse wrote:
What is else new. SA always writes that Hawaii WILL receive $1.55 BILLION from the FTA for a train project to nowhere.
on March 6,2013 | 01:47PM
CloudForest wrote:
God Almighty spoke all into creation, any other 'theory' is just a theory.
on March 6,2013 | 01:45PM
Matthew wrote:
Why, because the Bible says so? I guess that's easier than trying to figure out what complex dipeptides and polypeptides are . . . .
on March 6,2013 | 02:25PM
rigormortis wrote:
Once again, man is smarter than God
on March 6,2013 | 09:50PM
bekwell wrote:
God is real. So is Batman and Spiderman. They're all written about in a book. Don't question their existence. I don't know anything about dipeptides. I have to wait for the book to come out.
on March 6,2013 | 03:08PM
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