Building Blocks Of Life Abundant In Space? The ‘R’ In RNA Exists On Asteroids And Comets, Suggest New Research

Scientists claim space has ample supply of “R,” a type of sugar in RNA, which is one of the three main critical building blocks of life. The material, which is critical to begin and sustain life, is probably found in large quantities on asteroids and comets which regularly fly through our solar system.

New research strongly suggests that the sugar ribose or the “R” in RNA could be found in comets and asteroids. The quantity of this material in the vastness of space has always been questioned, but researchers suggest that the material may be more abundant throughout the universe than previously imagined. Needless to say, the findings not only has implications on the origin of life here on Earth, but could also help in understanding just how much life is out there, which was created due to the presence of RNA.

It is common knowledge and accepted hypothesis that several of the molecules necessary for life to begin, including amino acids, nucleobases, and others, can form from the interaction of ice that’s pre-existent on asteroids and space radiation. Their interaction is known to create the basic building blocks of life. But ribose, which is a basic ingredient that makes up the RNA molecule, has been highly elusive, strongly suggesting that Earth was the only planet to feature such a diverse ecosystem with a plethora of life forms cohabiting.

However, new research, published Thursday in Science, indicates all the necessary building blocks, as well as their components, are available, possibly in all the corners of the universe. This clearly means the chances of finding life outside of Earth and away from our solar system are extremely good.

RNA, which stands of Ribonucleic Acid, is one of the three macromolecules that are absolutely critical to all life forms here on Earth. In absence of DNA and proteins, which are the other two ingredients, life on Earth wouldn’t have existed.

Scientists have long believed that RNA is much more “ancient” than DNA and it is quite likely that a world that was primarily built on RNA did exist. However, the formation of the building block of life isn’t easy, and it forms under very specific set of conditions, which, interestingly, didn’t exist on our planet before life evolved here. This essentially questions the origin of RNA and the research proved that RNA may have, in fact, landed on Earth through the numerous asteroid collisions.

To prove their hypothesis, scientists re-created the conditions of the early solar system in a French lab to see whether ribose could easily be made in space, reported Phys. A mixture of water, methanol, and ammonia was used for the experiment because the components are abundant in the proto-planetary disk that formed around the sun at the dawn of the solar system, and are also amply found in gas clouds throughout the universe.

Using the materials, scientists successfully created the ice commonly found on asteroids. While this experiment is certainly not new, till date, the scientists didn’t possess the tools, like the multidimensional gas chromatography, to detect sugars such as ribose in the samples, reported Los Angeles Times.

Astonishingly, the experiment yielded not only ribose sugar or the “R” in RNA and sugar-related molecules, but the scientists also found amino acids, carboxylic acids, and alcohols within the cometary ice, reported UPI. Speaking about the ground-breaking findings, Cornelia Meinert, a researcher at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, said,

“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.”

What the experiment clearly proves is that chemical processes constantly happening in space can lead to the formation of molecules that are biologically relevant, and if introduced on a planet with just the right conditions, they could give birth to life.

[Photo by Scott Tysick/Getty Images]