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Fields & Applications Mass Spectrometry

Proteins in Space?

Three researchers from Harvard University, PLEX Corporation, and Bruker Scientific believe they have found the world’s first extraterrestrial protein in a meteorite called Acfer 086 (1).

The team was able to characterize the new 2320 Dalton protein – dubbed hemolithin – using high-precision matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) MS. And, based on the protein’s high deuterium/hydrogen ratio, the researchers suggest it may have been formed in a protoplanetary disc at the start of our solar system – or in the interstellar molecular clouds that existed long before our sun was born.

The group is now working to determine hemolithin’s 3D crystal structure and explore its other properties. If, as they suspect, hemolithin’s iron-oxygen-iron grouping is able to absorb photons and split water into hydroxyl and hydrogen, it could provide insight into the biochemical processes that kickstarted life on planet Earth.

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  1. MW McGeoch, “Hemolithin: a meteoric protein containing iron and lithium”, Cornell University [submitted paper] (2020). Available at: bit.ly/3evWxob

About the Author

Lauren Robertson

By the time I finished my degree in Microbiology I had come to one conclusion – I did not want to work in a lab. Instead, I decided to move to the south of Spain to teach English. After two brilliant years, I realized that I missed science, and what I really enjoyed was communicating scientific ideas – whether that be to four-year-olds or mature professionals. On returning to England I landed a role in science writing and found it combined my passions perfectly. Now at Texere, I get to hone these skills every day by writing about the latest research in an exciting, creative way.

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