New Test Boosts Search For Extraterrestrial Life

Researchers have identified a new test case that could be used for evaluating extraterrestrial samples for evidence of life. The new test could ultimately allow the use of simpler analytical instrumentation on future space missions.
In the search for life on other planets, astrobiologists regard liquid water and chiral biomolecules to be critical components. "Yet because chiral molecules can be made synthetically as well as biologically, it's not enough to just find them on other planets. We need to show a change of chirality over time," said Tracey Thaler, a graduate student at Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She works with Professor Andreas Bommarius in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Thaler has investigated racemization -- the conversion of an optically active compound to a racemic form, which has no optical rotation -- as a new approach for analyzing samples in outer space. "Because this type of reaction is found only in biological systems, it could serve as a marker for extraterrestrial life," Thaler explained. She will present results from the study on Thursday, March 30, at the 231st American Chemical Society National Meeting in Atlanta.
From here.