(Gledhill, Hesse, Hough, Kaye, Martin, Ulanowski)
A unique characteristic of life is its macroscopic homochirality. Chiral (handed) molecules are ubiquitous throughout all known life-forms, and amino acids - the basic building blocks of proteins, are all chiral (bar glycine). As chiral molecules interact differently with left and right-handed circularly polarized light, this offers the potential of a remote sensing diagnostic since a chiral signature can be revealed with circular polarization observations.
L-amino acid (left) and D-amino acid (right)
Establishing biomarkers that can be used for the remote detection of living organisms has importance in areas ranging from protection against bacteriological contamination to the search for life elsewhere in the Universe. The former has been given impetus with the increased awareness of biological agent threats and the latter, inter alia, by the realization that life can exist and thrive in extreme environments hitherto considered so hostile that they must be sterile. This proposal aims to establish biomarkers that can be widely used and are not overly specific to any organism.
In 2007, staff from CAR and CAIR (now CACP) commissioned a SRIF-funded Polarimetry 研究 Laboratory (PRL) dedicated to studying the scattering from biological organisms, with a Leverhulme award providing support for a two-year Fellowship. A parallel programme, led by Visiting Professor Bill Sparks, is being undertaken between STScI, COMB and NIST.
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Martin et al. 2010, JWSRT, 111, 2444
Sparks et al. 2009, JQSRT, 110, 1771
Sparks et al. 2009, PNAS, 106, 7816