A team of Rutgers scientists dedicated to pinpointing the primordial origins of metabolism has identified part of a protein that could give scientists clues to detect planets on the verge of producing life ( The progress of science).
This has important implications for the search for extraterrestrial life because it gives researchers a new clue to look for. Based on lab studies, Rutgers scientists say one of the most likely chemical candidates that kickstarted life was a simple peptide with two nickel atoms they call “Nickelback” because its backbone nitrogen atoms bind two critical nickel atoms.
Nickel, they reasoned, was an abundant metal in the early oceans. When bonded to the peptide, the nickel atoms become powerful catalysts, attracting additional protons and electrons and producing hydrogen gas.
Hydrogen, the researchers reasoned, was also more abundant on early Earth and would have been a key energy source to fuel metabolism.