We’ve been gazing longingly up at Saturn’s moon, Titan, since the Huygens probe touched down, and frankly, for some time before that. Although it’s very dark and cold there, Titan does possess some interesting features that might suggest some kind of alien life forms there: liquid oceans of methane. Also an atmosphere containing hydrogen, acetylene and ethane, each of which appear to be consumed somehow by some as-yet unidentified process,
Our Terran model of life depends on a membrane composed of two layers of lipids. The cell walls in your body are made in such a manner. This membrane was evolved with liquid water, and basically depends on the availability of liquid water in order to main cell function and – live.
Now on Titan, liquid methane is the way to play; water is only available as a solid, and the temperature is very cold. So what sort of cell membrane would have to exist in order for life on Titan to thrive?
I can’t believe somebody has worked this out.
From the research article by
“We take a step toward answering this question by proposing a new type of membrane, composed of small organic nitrogen compounds, that is capable of forming and functioning in liquid methane at cryogenic temperatures. Using molecular simulations, we demonstrate that these membranes in cryogenic solvent have an elasticity equal to that of lipid bilayers in water at room temperature. As a proof of concept, we also demonstrate that stable cryogenic membranes could arise from compounds observed in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, known for the existence of seas of liquid methane on its surface.”
Is this what we will be encountering when we finally launch another probe to Titan?
Read the original report: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400067