WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Although there is a wealth of information regarding life on our planet, researchers continue to look for an answer to a key question: How did life get here in the first place?
Scientists at the Ames Astrochemistry Laboratory in California and the Goddard Space Flight Center revealed through their research that chemical components of our DNA can be reproduced in harsh simulated space conditions.
“Nobody really understands how life got started on Earth,” Scott Sandford, a space science researcher at NASA Ames said, as reported by Daily Galaxy. “Our experiments suggest that once the Earth formed, many of the building blocks of life were likely present from the beginning. Since we are simulating universal astrophysical conditions, the same is likely wherever planets are formed.”
Scientists replicated the building blocks of early earth by creating a chunk of ice containing pyrimidine. The molecules known as pyrimidine form the three-part genetic code found in DNA and RNA. The ring-shaped molecule is made up of nitrogen and carbon.
To conduct the research, scientists put the chunk of ice in a machine that reproduces the vacuum of space, along with temperatures around -430°F and harsh radiation created by high-energy ultraviolet (UV) photons from a hydrogen lamp, as explained by CNET.
The researchers proved that the pyrimidine molecules were able to survive these harsh conditions and in some cases the radiation morphed the molecules into uracil, cytosine and thymine; the key components of DNA and RNA.
“We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, cytosine, and thymine, all three components of RNA and DNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space,” said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, as reported by Daily Galaxy. “We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate conditions in outer space, can make several fundamental building blocks used by living organisms on Earth.”
While this research does support the notion that these molecules can protect themselves from destructive radiation, there are still many questions to be answered. Scientists continue to research the origin of meteoric pyrimidine.
“We are trying to address the mechanisms in space that are forming these molecules,” explains Christopher Materese, another NASA researcher working on the new experiments. “Considering what we produced in the laboratory, the chemistry of ice exposed to ultraviolet radiation may be an important linking step between what goes on in space and what fell to Earth early in its development.”
This research was supported and funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) and the NASA Origins of Solar Systems Program.