Oftentimes, when working on a project, scientists will find themselves realizing that they have actually reached a totally different result than they were hoping for. This most often ends in failure but on occasion, they will end up finding something much more important than anything on which they might have been working.
Something like this happened recently at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France, as a team of researchers discovered that comets and asteroids may be responsible for life on Earth. This is owed to the fact that they found that ribose and other sugars can be formed in these flying space rocks much more easily than on Earth.
Ribose and other sugars
Attempting to create a comet in laboratory conditions, French scientists ended up with one of the biggest surprises of their lifetimes. It turns out that the ice present on the exterior of these comets contains the building blocks of DNA and RNA, as well as those of other molecules vital to life on Earth.
Previously undetected in meteors or comets, it came as a huge surprise that ribose and sugar molecules are present in the exterior of comets, particularly since the scientific community has long wondered how the substances ended up on Earth.
Artificially made comet
So how would scientists go about creating an artificial comet in a laboratory? Well, they attempted to go as realistically as possible, so they simulated the outer space conditions as best they could in a lab. For this, the team concocted a mix of ammonia, methanol, and water, and placed it at very low pressures and temperatures.
From there they got a mix of the comet’s raw materials, dust grains with an ice coating. Next, the researchers irradiated the material with powerful, unfiltered, ultraviolet light, and concluded after analyzing the results via highly sensitive techniques that the ribose and sugars might have come from formaldehyde.
Here is where the really fun part begins. As ribose and the sugar compounds can be formed so easily in space, and not at all easily on the planet, how did the substances become such an integral part of our biology?
The easiest guess would be that as comets and asteroids pelted the planet in its earlier stages, the substances became part of the planet’s surface. And with them being responsible for the creation of DNA and RNA, it’s reasonable to conclude that that is how life came to be on the planet.
Image source: Wikimedia