They discovered in an asteroid organic elements essential for the beginning of life on Earth

by time news

Scientists located uracil and niacin in samples from the Ryugu asteroid, which reinforces the theory that some vital ingredients for life on earth come from space. The researchers brought the space rock to Earth in 2020.

These two essential organic compounds reinforce the idea that some essential ingredients for life on Earth arrived on board space rocks millions of years ago, according to a study released this Tuesday, March 21, by the magazine Nature.

Uracil is one of the chemical components of RNA, a molecule that contains the instructions for the construction and functioning of living organisms. For its part, niacin, also called vitamin B3 or nicotinic acid, is vital for its metabolism, as reported by DW.

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Findings support theory about life on Earth

The new discoveries are consistent with the hypothesis that Comets, asteroids, and meteorites bombarded Earth in its early days, some 4.5 billion years ago, seeding the planet with compounds that paved the way for the first microbes..

Scientists had already detected organic molecules in meteorites that fell to Earth, but it was not clear if these space rocks had been contaminated by their exposure to the terrestrial environment after landing.

“Our main finding is that uracil and niacin, both of biological importance, are indeed present in extraterrestrial environments and may have reached early Earth as components of asteroids and meteorites,” said Yasuhiro Oba, lead author and an astrochemist at the University of from Hokkaido (Japan).

“We suspect that they played a role in Earth’s prebiotic evolution and possibly in the emergence of the first life.”he added.


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The samples arrived in 2020 on Earth

The Ruygu fragments, resembling dark gray rubble, were obtained in 2019 by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft of the Japanese Space Agency. These samples traveled about 250 million kilometers to reach Earth.

Hand in hand with a meticulously sealed capsule, the pieces of the asteroid landed in the remote Australian outback in 2020, to be later brought to Japan for analysis.

“Ryugu’s molecules were recovered in a pristine extraterrestrial environment. Samples were taken directly from the Ryugu asteroid, returned to Earth and eventually to laboratories without any contact with terrestrial contaminants,” Oba explained.

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The importance of uracil and niacin

RNA, short for ribonucleic acid, would not be possible without uracil. RNA, a molecule present in all living cells, is vital in gene coding, regulation, and activity. It also has structural similarities to DNA, the molecule that carries the genetic fingerprint of an organism.

Meanwhile, niacin is important for metabolism and can help produce the “energy” that drives living organisms.

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New study of another space rock

Asteroids are primordial rocky bodies that formed in the early solar system. Ryugu, which is around 900 meters in diameter and classified as a near-Earth asteroid, could have formed its organic compounds with the help of chemical reactions triggered by starlight in icy materials.

Organic astrochemist and study co-author Yoshinori Takano said he is now eagerly awaiting the results of the analysis of samples from the asteroid Bennu, which will reach Earth in September from the NASA-operated OSIRIS-REx mission.


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