|teleSUR | Jun 9, 2017|
|Scientists discover proteins which form the base of the creation of life. | Photo: Reuters|
Two teams of astronomers said Thursday they have for the first time detected a key chemical building block of life swirling around infant stars that resemble our Sun before its planets formed.
The molecule, methyl isocyanate, "plays an essential role in the formation of proteins, which are basic ingredients for life," said Victor Rivilla, a scientist at the Astrophysics Observatory in Florence, Italy, and co-author of a study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The findings could offer clues on how chemicals sparked into living matter on Earth several billion years ago.
Scientists spotted the organic compound in a dense envelope of interstellar dust and gas circling three young stars some 400 lightyears from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus, better known as the Serpent Bearer.
Using the Atacama array of radiotelescopes in the northern desert of Chile, the two teams independently isolated the chemical signature of methyl isocyanate, and then followed up with computer modelling and laboratory experiments to probe the molecule's origins.
However, Methyl isocyanate -- and other chemical precursors to life -- are highly toxic, potentially lethal, to humans and other animals.
"This makes laboratory work challenging," Ligterink noted dryly by email.
Indeed, methyl isocyanate (CH3NCO) was the main poison in the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, in which a leak from a pesticide factory on the night of December 2 killed more than 3,700 people.
But in combination with other molecules, such as water, it transforms and can eventually lead to life-bearing compounds.
One of the new studies contained a note in memory of the Bhopal victims.