An international team of NASA scientists discovered a sugar molecule ribose, a vital ingredient in RNA, the basis of life, in two meteorites. RNA acts as a “messenger molecule”, delivering data from amino acids to genes.
Meteorites are formed when fragments of asteroids break off, meaning the researchers believe the discovery of the sugars on the small space objects suggests asteroids could potentially have delivered life to Earth.
Sugars have been a missing piece among the major building blocks of life
Professor Yoshihiro Furukawa
During the nascent Solar System 4.6billion years ago, cosmic ice grains were blasted by sunlight and the ensuing chemical reaction caused sugar molecules to form on the surface.
Over unimaginable eons, these ice grains may have been collected by a comet or asteroid on a collision course with Earth, which already housed the key ingredients for life such as amino acids.
NASA said in a statement: “If correct, meteorite bombardment on ancient Earth may have assisted the origin of life with a supply of life’s building blocks.”
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Yoshihiro Furukawa of Tohoku University, lead author of the study, said: “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.”
Jason Dworkin, a co-author of the study at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, added: “It is remarkable that a molecule as fragile as ribose could be detected in such ancient material.
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