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Indian-origin researcher’s team discovers clues for extraterrestrial life

The research could have important implications in the search for extraterrestrial life.

Vikas Nanda from Rutgers University. (Image: Rutgers University)

Indian-origin researcher Vikas Nanda and a team of scientists from Rutgers University have identified part of a protein that could provide clues to detecting planets on the verge of producing life.

A researcher at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine (CABM) at Rutgers, Nanda is part of a Rutgers-led team called Evolution of Nanomachines in Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors (ENIGMA), which is part of the Astrobiology program at NASA.

According to the University press, the team was trying to understand how protein evolved as a predominant catalyst of life on Earthand their findings could have important implications in the search for extraterrestrial life.

The findings reveal that the chemical candidate that kickstarted life was a peptide with two nickel atoms called Nickelback.  "Peptides like Nickelback could become the latest biosignature employed by NASA to detect planets on the verge of producing life,” Nanda said.

“Scientists believe that sometime between 3.5 and 3.8 billion years ago there was a tipping point, something that kickstarted the change from prebiotic chemistry – molecules before life – to­ living, biological systems,” he added.

“We believe the change was sparked by a few small precursor proteins that performed key steps in an ancient metabolic reaction. And we think we’ve found one of these pioneer peptides," the Biochemistry professor revealed.