I’m not going to sugar-coat this: scientists have found extraterrestrial sugars in meteorites that crashed to Earth.
Researchers have long theorised that meteorites could hold some of the key ingredients to creating life.
Now, following an international study, there’s more fuel for the idea that ‘meteorite bombardment on ancient Earth may have assisted the origin of life with a supply of life’s building blocks’.
The study – published Monday, November 18, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – analysed three separate meteorites, including one dating back billions of years which landed in Australia in 1969.
There have been previous attempts to investigate meteors for sugar – however, this time the scientists opted for a new technique using hydrochloric acid and water.
While the team found bio-essential sugars such as arabinose and xylose, the most significant result was the discovery of ribose – a key component of human biology.
NASA explained further in a press release:
Ribose is a crucial component of RNA (ribonucleic acid). In much of modern life, RNA serves as a messenger molecule, copying genetic instructions from the DNA molecule (deoxyribonucleic acid) and delivering them to molecular factories within the cell called ribosomes that read the RNA to build specific proteins needed to carry out life processes.
As per the press release, ‘DNA is the template for life, carrying the instructions for how to build and operate a living organism’.
However, it’s a common belief for scientists that RNA evolved first and it was later replaced by DNA. ‘This is because RNA molecules have capabilities that DNA lacks. RNA can make copies of itself without help from other molecules, and it can also initiate or speed up chemical reactions as a catalyst.’
The study’s lead author Yoshihiro Furukawa, of Tohoku University, added:
Other important building blocks of life have been found in meteorites previously, including amino acids (components of proteins) and nucleobases (components of DNA and RNA), but sugars have been a missing piece among the major building blocks of life
The research provides the first direct evidence of ribose in space and the delivery of the sugar to Earth. The extraterrestrial sugar might have contributed to the formation of RNA on the prebiotic Earth which possibly led to the origin of life.
In January 2018, researchers discovered other key components in meteors, including amino acids, hydrocarbons, organic matter, and traces of liquid water possibly from the earliest days of the solar system.
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After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.