Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Shooting stars sugar coated


The Murray meterorite and others may have seeded life on earth.
© New England Meteoritical Services

Maltose: meteorites contain similar sugars.
© Molecular expressions

Meteorites could have sweetened the earliest life.

Sugar from space may have nourished the first life on Earth. Two meteorites contain a range of polyols, organic substances closely related to sugars such as glucose1.

George Cooper of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and co-workers have found these compounds in the Murchison meteorite, which fell over the Australian town Murchison in 1969, and in the Murray meteorite, that fell to Kentucky in 1950.

Both of these carbon-rich meteorites are thought to be fragments of asteroids, rubble from the building of our Solar System. The Murchison meteorite has been particularly well studied. That it contains amino acids, the molecular building blocks of proteins, helped to establish that these basic components of life’s molecules can be formed in extraterrestrial environments.

This implied that life on Earth might have been seeded by organic compounds falling from the skies, rather than having started from scratch on the young planet. The meteorites’ sugar molecules hint that another essential building block of life may have come from space.

Sugars form part of the backbone of the molecules DNA and RNA, found in all living organisms. They are also life’s primary energy store. Polyols, close chemical relatives of sugars, are used commercially as sugar-free sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol.

Cooper’s team found a wide range of polyols in the two meteorites, and some related molecules called sugar acids. The group also spotted one of the simplest pure sugar molecules, dihydroxyacetone.

Sugars were reported in Murray and other meteorites in the 1960s - including glucose, the main sugar made by plants during photosynthesis. But there was a strong possibility that these compounds might have been incorporated into the meteorites by microbial contamination on Earth.

The compounds seen by Cooper and his colleagues are less likely to be terrestrial contaminants because, in the main, they correspond to substances not found in living organisms. Moreover, the relative abundances of different polyols match what would be produced by chemical rather than biochemical processes.

The researchers think these cosmic sweeteners might have been formed in reactions between formaldehyde and water on the asteroid parent bodies of the meteorites. Formaldehyde, a very simple organic molecule, forms in interstellar space by reactions of still simpler molecules such as carbon monoxide.

The findings therefore support a growing realization that, even in the frozen depths of space, lifeless chemistry can arrange the elements into molecular forms well along the road to primitive life.

  1. Cooper, G. et al. Carbonaceous meteorites as a source of sugar-related organic compounds for the early Earth. Nature, 414, 879 - 883, (2001).

PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>