Posts Tagged ‘biochemistry’

Comet impact shockwave may have planted seeds of life on Earth

13 Sep

Stanley Miller performed some of the most famous origin of life experiments, showing that the chemicals thought to be present in the early Earth's atmosphere might react to form amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. But these experiments haven't aged well, through no fault of their own; other scientists have since revised their estimates of what was present in the early atmosphere, raising some doubts as to whether the Miller experiments are especially relevant. A paper released by Nature Chemistry neatly dodges this issue by showing that it might not matter what the Earth looked like—the shockwave of a comet impact can make biological materials regardless of the composition of the atmosphere it crashes into.

In the years since Miller's experiments, we've been better able to image the composition of comets, and have even returned samples of some of the material shed by the comet Wild 2 as it approached the Sun. These have revealed a mixture of simple organic compounds like ammonia and ethanol, but nothing as complex as an amino acid, chemicals that form the building blocks of proteins.

Read the rest of this article...

Read the comments on this post


Gamers beat algorithms at finding protein structures

04 Aug

Today's issue of Nature contains a paper with a rather unusual author list. Read past the standard collection of academics, and the final author credited is... an online gaming community. 

Scientists have turned to games for a variety of reasons, having studied virtual epidemics and tracked online communities and behavior, or simply used games to drum up excitement for the science. But this may be the first time that the gamers played an active role in producing the results, having solved problems in protein structure through the Foldit game.

According to a news feature on Foldit, the project arose from an earlier distributed computing effort called Rosetta@home. That project used what has become the standard approach for home-based scientific work: a screensaver that provided a graphical frontend to a program that uses spare processor time to solve weighty scientific problems. For Rosetta, that problem was the task of figuring out how proteins, which are composed of a chain of chemicals called amino acids, adopt their final, three-dimensional shape.

Read the rest of this article...

Read the comments on this post