Bio-essential Sugars Found in Meteorites

Artist’s concept of meteors impacting ancient Earth. Some scientists think such impacts may have delivered water and other molecules useful to emerging life on Earth. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports the presence of ribose and other bio-essential sugars, including arabinose and xylose, in two carbonaceous meteorites, Murchison (type CM2) and NWA 801 (type CR2). Ribose is a crucial component of RNA (ribonucleic acid). In much of modern life, RNA serves as a messenger molecule, copying genetic instructions from the DNA molecule (deoxyribonucleic acid) and delivering them to molecular factories within the cell called ribosomes. The ribosomes read the RNA and use the genetic instructions to build specific proteins that are needed to perform biologic processes in cells. The research provides the first direct evidence of ribose in space and the delivery of the sugar to Earth. The extraterrestrial sugar might have contributed to the formation of RNA on the prebiotic Earth, which possibly led to the origin of life.

“It is remarkable that a molecule as fragile as ribose could be detected in such ancient material,” said Jason Dworkin, a co-author of the study at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “These results will help guide our analyses of pristine samples from primitive asteroids Ryugu and Bennu, to be returned by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.” READ MORE