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Rosetta discovers key life-building amino acid on comet

The researchers behind the Rosetta space probe have said they have found some of the essential building blocks of life. The discovery could be a game-changer in the debate over how living organisms developed on Earth.

A new discovery by the European Space Agency could help bolster the theory that life on Earth only became possible after comets brought the necessary building blocks to the planet. The ESA revealed on Friday that their Rosetta spacecraft had found some key organic compounds in the cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet known as 67P.

While the amino acid glycine, necessary for living organisms to make proteins, had been detected before in the Wild 2 comet in 2006, Friday's discovery was seen as proof that the earlier find was not a fluke. It was also a boon to scientists who were unable to gather much from the Wild 2 sample due to contamination after it landed in the Utah desert.

"Having found glycine in more than one comet shows that neither Wild 2 nor 67P are exceptions," said Rosetta scientist Kathrin Altwegg, emphasizing the implications this could have in the search for life on other planets.

"Amino acids are everywhere, and life could possibly also start in many places in the universe," she added.

The Rosetta team also discovered phosphorous in the comet's dust trail, an element needed by all living organisms.

The space probe is set to end its two-year mission investigating 67P in September. Researchers hope that they can use it to find other complex organic compounds needed to produce life before

it crashes into the comet's surface.

es/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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