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Discover the ‘building blocks of life’ in a meteorite that crashed in England

Dr. Queenie Chan. Credit: Royal Holloway, University of London

New research has been published on the organic analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite that fell on a pass in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, England in 2021. The research, led by Dr. Queenie Chan, from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, has found organic compounds from space that hold secrets to the origin of life.

In the study, the analysis found a group of organic materials that reveal that the meteorite was once from a part of an asteroid where liquid water occurred, and if this asteroid had been allowed to reach the water, a chemical reaction might have occurred that turned more molecules into

Amino acids

Amino acids are a group of organic compounds used to build proteins. There are approximately 6 known naturally occurring amino acids, although only 0 is found in the genetic code. Proteins are made up of one or more chains of amino acids called polypeptides. The amino acid chain sequence causes the polypeptide to fold into a bioactive form. The amino acid sequence of proteins is encoded in genes. Nine protein amino acids are classified as “essential” for humans because they cannot be made by the human body from other compounds, and therefore must be ingested through food.

“data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]Amino acids and protein – the building blocks of life.


The Winchcombe meteorite is a rare chondrite meteorite rich in carbon (about four per cent of all meteorites recovered, which contain up to 3.5 per cent by weight of carbon) and is the first ever meteorite of this type to be found in the UK with an observed meteorite fall event. , with over 1,000 eyewitnesses and many fireball footage.

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amino

Acid

Any substance that when dissolved in water gives a pH less than 7.0 or donates a hydrogen ion.

“data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]The acid abundance of Winchcombe is 10 times lower than other types of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites and was a challenge to study due to the limited discovery of amino acids, but with the meteorite’s immediate recovery and care, the team was able to study the organic content of the meteorite prior to its interaction with Earth’s environment. Organic matter indicates It indicates that the meteorite could represent a class of unique and weak meteorite that has not been studied before.

Dr Queenie Chan, from Royal Holloway, University of London, said: “Meteorite falls happen throughout the year, however, what makes this meteor fall unique is that it is the first meteorite that has been spotted by many eyewitnesses, recorded and recovered in the Kingdom. the United States over the past thirty years.


Winchcombe belongs to a rare type of carbonaceous meteorite that typically contains rich stores of organic compounds and water. The first Winchcombe meteorite was recovered within 12 hours of the fireball observation event and properly orchestrated to minimize any ground contamination. This allowed us to study the truly essential organic signature of the meteorite itself.

“Studying the organic inventory of the Winchcombe meteorite has provided us with a window into the past, and how simple chemistry initiated the origin of life at the birth of our solar system. The discovery of the primary organic molecules of this life has allowed us to understand the fall of material on Earth’s surface, before life emerged on our planet.”

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“I was honored to lead the team on the organic analysis of the UK’s first ever successful Carbonaceous meteorite retrieval. It has been a pleasure and an exciting journey to work with highly skilled and enthusiastic scientists across the country.”

Reference: “Amino Acids and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Structures of Instantly Recovered CM2 Winchcombe Carbonate Chondrites” By Queenie H.S. Chan, Jonathan S. Watson, Mark A. Sefton, Aine C. O’Brien, and Lydia Gehalis, Jan. 9, 2023, Available Here. Science of meteorites and planets.
DOI: 10.1111/Maps.13936


The broader research for the organic analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite in this study involved a collaboration with Imperial College London And University of Glasgow.