RNA, ribonucleic acid, is one of three molecules essential in the formation of life. Without RNA, no life on Earth could exist. One of the questions that have baffled scientists is how life started on Earth. Was it a spontaneous process that just happened by luck? Are the building blocks of life abundant in space as the panspermia theory suggests and the molecules necessary for life to develop were “seeded” here? Scientists may have answered this question.
An experiment performed by Cornelia Meinert, an associate scientist at the University Nice Sophia Antipolis, showed that ribose, the sugar in RNA, can be found in comets. In her experiment, Meinert created a simulated comet based on data gathered from the Rosetta mission. The composition of the comet was completely accurate. The comet was then hit with simulated radiation that would have been similar to the radiation that would have been given off by the Sun from millions of years ago. When the experiment was finished, Meinert discovered organic molecules were left over. From the organic molecules, RNA and other essential molecules for life were identified. The other molecules discovered were amino acids, carboxylic acids, and alcohols.
The experiment conducted by Meinert and her team took six days to complete. Experiments similar to this have been conducted in the past. The reason that ribose was able to finally be identified is due to scientists now having the technological tools necessary to detect and analyze the organic materials left over from the completed experiment. Meinert commented on the discovery and the importance of the possibility that RNA is floating around in space.
“We are confronted with a very complex sample containing a huge diversity of molecules. The identification of individual compounds is therefore very difficult. Our ice simulation is a very general process that can occur in molecular clouds as well as in protoplanetary disks. It shows that the molecular building blocks of the potentially first genetic material are abundant in interstellar environments.”
This potentially groundbreaking discovery and experiment has been published in the journal Science.
The ‘R’ in RNA is likely abundant in space, scientists say… https://t.co/fSKHfqFF3C pic.twitter.com/DW0vA9Cibj
— Particle Science (@ParticleSci) April 8, 2016
It has been a long-standing theory in the scientific community that RNA is a molecule that is far older than DNA. It is theorized that early Earth consisted of life made up from RNA. RNA is a delicate molecule that is stable under very certain conditions. Early Earth was a very hostile environment and it is thought that RNA would never have been able to survive long enough to generate life. The RNA had to come from somewhere if it was not possible to have come from Earth. Many scientists feel this is proof that the RNA world on early Earth had to have come from ribose that was on celestial bodies out in space. The scientists believe that when these space objects crashed into Earth, ribose was essentially planted which then allowed RNA life to develop. Andrew Mattioda, an astrochemist at NASA Ames Research Center, believes that this new discovery makes it much more plausible that life exists in other places in space.
“If all these molecules that are necessary for life are everywhere out in space, the case gets a lot better that you’ll find life outside of Earth.”
Every day scientists are learning new techniques to analyze and acquire data from space. These advantages allow scientists to understand, and learn, more about what is out there in the vastness of space. Now that we have learned that one of the oldest building blocks of life, RNA, exists in space, the quest for finding other types of life will surely increase.
Do you think the RNA from ancient Earth came from somewhere in space?
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