And they're confident it didn't come from Earth.
For the first time, scientists found a complete protein molecule in a meteorite — and they're pretty sure it didn't come from Earth.
After analyzing samples from the meteorite Acfer 086, a team of researchers from Harvard University and the biotech companies PLEX Corporation and Bruker Scientific found that the protein's building blocks differed chemically from terrestrial protein. As they write in their research, which they shared on ArXiv on Saturday, "this is the first report of a protein from any extra-terrestrial source."
A protein is an organic molecule made up of building blocks called amino acids. It's a high-energy fuel source and also makes up most of the machinery within biological cells. Scientists first found amino acids — or at least amino acid-like molecules — in space years ago, and other molecules important to biological life have also turned up.
The researchers say that since then, chains of amino acids have also been spotted, but none large or organized enough to be considered a full protein.
The paper — which has yet to go through academic review or be published in a scientific journal — bolsters the hypothesis that meteorite impacts could have contributed to the development of life on Earth. It's possible that some of the molecules or compounds necessary for life to emerge and thrive were delivered through a bombardment of space rocks.
What it doesn't confirm is that there's extraterrestrial life out there. The research doesn't determine where this unearthly protein came from or how it formed — the scientists are just confident it didn't come from here.
More on space molecules: NASA Says It Found Building Blocks of Life in Fallen Meteorites