Toxic gases from broccoli may indicate extraterrestrial life

(ORDO NEWS) — Broccoli, as well as other cruciferous vegetables and some algae, release methyl bromide to flush out toxins from the body.

Now American researchers have come to the conclusion that this poisonous gas can serve as an excellent marker of life on other planets.

Most cells have special mechanisms to remove harmful substances.

Often this process involves methylation the addition of a methyl group (-CH3) to the compound which turns many potential toxins into gases that escape into the atmosphere.

If similar gases were found in the atmosphere of other planets, they could indicate the presence of life there.

Scientists from the University of California at Riverside (USA) have shown that among methylated gases, methyl bromide, which is secreted by cruciferous and algae, can serve as the best biomarker.

A study published in The Astrophysical Journal describes the advantage of this organic matter over traditional compounds used by scientists to search for life outside the solar system.

The first feature of methyl bromide is that it remains in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time than traditional biosignature gases.

That is, its discovery will tell that it was synthesized not so long ago, and the source is probably still present on the planet.

In addition, there are not many ways to get methyl bromide through a non-biological process. This favorably distinguishes it from, for example, methane, which can be both a product of the activity of living organisms and the result of volcanic and many other geological processes.

Although methyl bromide is extremely common in the Earth’s atmosphere, it is not easy to detect due to the intensity of solar ultraviolet radiation, which quickly destroys this substance.

However, the authors of the new work showed that this gas would be easier to detect in the planets of stars of the spectral type M. They are smaller and colder than the Sun and, therefore, produce less ultraviolet radiation.

Under all similar conditions, in the atmosphere of a planet of an M-class star, the visibility of methyl bromide will be four orders of magnitude higher than on Earth.

This is an undoubted advantage, since class M stars are found in the Universe ten times more often than those similar to the Sun.

Therefore, the researchers hope that astrobiologists will begin to consider methyl bromide when planning future missions and building telescopes.

The scientists also intend to test whether other methylated gases can be used as markers for extraterrestrial life.

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