Is there anybody out there?

An amino acid's discovery in deep space raises hope of finding life forms there

Published: Saturday 31 August 2002

-- An amino acid, one of the most important ingredients required to start life, has been recently traced in deep space. At least 130 molecules, including sugars and ethanol, which are essential for the survival of life have been identified in space so far. But finding an amino acid is significant because these acids link up to form proteins, which to a large extent make up the basic cell structure of any living organism. The finding indicates that the elements needed to create life are not unique to Earth. It also corroborates ideas that life exists on other planets and molecules from outer space might be responsible for starting life on Earth.

Glycine, the amino acid, was spotted by Lewis Snyder of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, usa, and Yi-Jehng Kuan of the National Taiwan Normal University. To track down the acid, the researchers monitored radio waves being emitted from giant molecular clouds, huge blobs of gas and dust grains. This helped them in tracing the lines of glycine's spectrum. After identifying 10 spectral lines from each location that corresponded to the lines created by glycine in the laboratory, the researchers came to their conclusion.

The find also supports labora tory-based simulations, which indicate that ice containing simple organic matter can form in deep space. During experiments, amino acids were created when this organic matter was exposed to ultraviolet light.

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