Scientists discovered the derivatives of life’s building blocks in carbon-rich meteor samples

3 minute read

Scientists bombarded the simulated meteor ice with ultraviolet radiation to form 2-deoxyribose (the sugar that forms the un D ole in DNA). This adds another element to the extensive list of complex biological compounds that can be created by astrophysical processes.


Extraterrestrial sugar

Scientists first discovered the derivatives of life’s building blocks in carbon-rich meteor samples. They also showed how biological compounds are formed in interstellar space. These new findings support the theory that life on Earth emerges with the help of cosmic influences.

Sugars and sugar derivatives are essential for life on earth. But these can also be found on amino acids and other organic molecules, as well as on asteroids and comets. Scientists suggested that objects in space could have fallen to Earth and presented compounds that would trigger biological processes on our planet.

Sugar and Ice

In this new study, scientists analyzed five residues from ice mixtures exposed to ultraviolet radiation in conditions that simulate the interstellar medium in space. The aim was to see if the organic molecules in the world were formed in a simulated space environment. In these residues, they found 2-deoxyribose or the sugar component forming the DNA D oz in DNA. They also found 2-deoxyribose derivatives, similar compounds having an atom, or a different group of atoms.

“Astrochemistry ice photolysis experiments, such as those described in our paper, provide a convincing explanation on how those compounds may form in such astrophysical environments,” lead researcher Michel Nuevo of NASA Ames Research Center

There are many theories surrounding the origins of life in the world. Scientists think that biological compounds, such as 2-deoxyribose, can play a role in the formation of the first organisms of the Earth. Some have even suggested that these biological compounds are formed on objects like comets, asteroids, meteoroids and interplanetary dust particles in the abiotic environment of space. Previous studies have shown how biological compounds are formed in space and bombardment by asteroids and comets may have fallen to Earth at the beginning of history.

Briefly, this study showed that biological compounds such as 2-deoxyribose may occur in a non-biological environment.

“Our paper, together with several other papers describing similar astrochemistry experiments published in the last 25 years or so, show that a very wide variety of compounds of biological interest can be formed under abiotic (i.e., non-biological) conditions in astrophysical environments,” lead researcher Michel Nuevo of NASA Ames Research Center in an email.


Still looking for DNA

In addition to this analysis, the researchers were able to identify some of these deoxy sugar derivatives for the first time in carbonated or carbon-rich meteor samples. This proved that these biological compounds could be produced in a space environment. However, while the team found 2-deoxyribose in laboratory experiments, they could not find the DNA component in the meteorite samples analyzed.

According to Nuevo, although this study does not solve the mystery of the origin of life on Earth, it shows that meteorites have a high probability of accumulating biological compounds in the world throughout history.

“Since asteroids and comets routinely crash onto the surface of planets, including the Earth, in the form of meteorites, it is obvious that large amounts of organic compounds, including compounds of biological interest, are routinely dumped on our continents and in our oceans, the same way they are probably dumped onto other planets of the solar system,” he said. “This does not explain how life originated on our planet more than 4 billion years ago, as nobody knows how those organic compounds could combine into the even more complex structures required for life to get started. But it shows that sugar derivatives and other compounds of biological interest are present and are probably dumped onto planets everywhere in the galaxy.”