NASA has announced a major new discovery in the search for extraterrestrial life,media reported. In particular, the space agency noted the discovery of the sugar molecules necessary for life in meteorites, which are combined with other compounds considered to be of “biological importance” for the formation of life. The discovery involved two different meteorites.
There is an idea that meteorites carrying essential components of life may have fallen into Earth in the distant past, providing compounds that could eventually help lead to the formation of life on Earth. This latest discovery points to the existence of xylitose, ribose and Arabic sugar, all of which are essential sugar molecules for life.
These compounds were found in Murchison (CM2) and NWA 801 (CR2), two meteorites described as “carbon-rich.” Notably, NASA points out that ribose is a key component of RNA, a “messenger molecule” that makes up a particular protein. These sugars combine the nucleic bases and amino acids (also the components of life) previously found on meteorites.
In meteorites, “sugar has always been missing in the main part of life,” explains the lead author of the new study, Sanbo Kukawa. The study provides the first direct evidence that meteorites and others have brought sugars such as ribosomes from space.
The findings will help analyze samples collected from asteroids like Bennu and Ryugu, both of which include Japan’s Hayabusa 2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The researchers say the sugar found in meteorites is unlikely to cause contamination. They plan to conduct further analysis of other meteorites in the future.