U.S. scientists said Tuesday they have developed a miniature laboratory that can spot a tell-tale chemical signature of life.
The laboratory-on-a-chip is ready to be part of a 2009 Mars mission, said the scientists.
The chip will look for amino acids, the molecular building blocks of proteins.
"Amino acids are the best molecules to look for if you want to find evidence of life that existed a long time ago," said Alison Skelley, a chemist at University of California, Berkeley, who helped build the life chip, as it is called.
Unlike DNA, amino acids could last for tens of thousands of years on Mars without changing, Skelley added.
The scientists said the chip can detect amino acids in soil down to levels of a few parts per trillion.
It works by shoving several pieces of lab equipment onto a slab just a few inches across. "The same device normally covers a large table," Skelley said.
The scientists hope a copy of the chip will make it onboard a NASA and a European Space Agency mission in the coming years.
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Artificial Prions Created
San Francisco - Mar 23, 2004
The culprit behind mad cow disease, a.k.a. bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is the most infamous mammalian form of prions. Prions are misfolded proteins that are capable of growing, replicating, and being passed on to daughter cells - that is, they are by themselves heritable.
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