The Murchison meteorite is a carbonaceous chondrite. These are generally believed to be remnants of spent comets. There is conclusive evidence that water once flowed through them. This one struck Earth on September 28, 1969, scattering fragments across pastures near Murchison, Victoria, Australia.
Most amino acids can exist in either a right-handed or left-handed form. In biology, however, only the left-handed forms are used. The original reason for this anomaly is not known. If life originates from nonliving chemicals there is no convincing reason for one form to be selected and not the other. Amino acids produced nonbiologically would have no obvious reason to accumulate excesses of either form. Now two biochemists at the University of Arizona have reported in Science that they found measurably more left-handed than right-handed versions of certain amino acids in the Murchison meteorite
Although astronomical processes have been hypothesized, no nonbiological process is known to produce this asymmetry. Instead, the case for life forms or life's chemistry in meteorites has always been open to the suggestion that meteorites are easily contaminated with biological products after reaching Earth. However, even before the new work by Cronin and Pizarello was reported, analyses of isotope ratios showed that the excess of left-handed amino acids in the meteorite was not the result of earthly contamination.
The relationship between these amino acids and Earthly life is exactly why we're all interested in this meteorite and makes it an important specimen to have in teaching or part of a meteorite collection. Lab results on this meteorite increase the weight of the previous argument for panspermia based on biological amino acids from Murchison.
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