The team, consisted of researchers from Cornell University, presented their idea that “methane-based life forms” that follow the same biological rules and methods as those seen on Earth could survive on Titan using methane instead of oxygen and water (what Earth life forms use for reproduction and various cell processes).
Scientists designed a “template for methane-based, oxygen-free cells” adding that the membrane of such cells could withstand temperatures of minus 293 degrees. The membrane was given the name “azotosome” and would probably be made of acrylonitrile (a compound consisting of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen molecules, three molecules that are present in Titan’s environment).
They also chose acrylonitrile because it gave membranes a level of flexibility, rigidity and stability that would assure the cells survival in Titan’s harsh environment.
On one of Saturn’s moons, Titan, NASA experts detected three vast oceans made out of methane and ethane instead of water. The Cassini-Huygens space probe sent to observe these oceans reported that the largest of the three is Kraken Mare, extending over 150,000 square miles across the moon’s north pole.
The purpose of this study, as study co-author Jonathan Lunine explained, was to find out how life could potentially look like on the Titan, despite its inhospitable climate.
The study began by acknowledging all the substances that exist in Titan’s environment. Chemical molecular dynamics specialist Paulette Clancy explained their tactic:
“We just worked with the compounds that we knew were there and asked, ‘if this was your palette, what can you make out of that?’”
They were also inspired by the cell structure of Earth life forms which present phospholipid bilayers. These components are the key areas for various cellular processes.
When it comes to life on other planets, astronomers usually look for something that can imitate Earth’s environment. So astronomers search for habitable zones where the possibility of finding water in various forms is high. The team, however, had a “think outside the box” tactic that showed results.
Image Source: National Geographic