August 17, 2009

Glycine found in samples of a comet

U.S. space agency scientists say they've found glycine, a basic building block of life, in samples of comet Wild 2 returned by NASA's Stardust spacecraft.

Glycine is an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, and this is the first time an amino acid has been found in a comet, said Jamie Elsila of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts.

Elsila is the lead author of a paper on the research that's been accepted for publication in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare, said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, which co-funded the research.

The research was presented Sunday during a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington.