Could Meteorites Strikes Have Generated The Building Blocks Of Life?

According to simulation studies, complex organic molecules such as nucleotides and amino acids could have been formed by meteorites crashing into the early ocean.

AsianScientist (Aug. 25, 2015) – A new study showed that meteorite impacts on ancient oceans may have created nucleobases and amino acids. Researchers from Tohoku University, National Institute for Materials Science and Hiroshima University discovered this after conducting impact experiments simulating a meteorite hitting an ancient ocean. The research is reported in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

A key in the emergence of life on earth is the presence of important chemical building blocks of life such as nucleobases (for DNA) and amino acids (for proteins). However, their origins remained elusive. One prevailing theory is that these starting materials came from outer space in small amounts.

Now, a simulation study by Professor Takeshi Kakegawa and his team from Tohoku University provided a new insight to the potential origin of life. To ask if meteorite crashing onto earth may be a source of organic compounds crucial for life, they generated a computer simulation of a meteorite crashing into an ancient ocean.

With precise analysis of the products recovered after impacts, the team found the formation of nucleobases and amino acids from inorganic compounds.

All the genetic information of modern life is stored in DNA as sequences of nucleobases. However, formation of nucleobases from inorganic compounds available on prebiotic Earth had been considered to be difficult.

In 2009, the team reported the formation of the simplest amino acid, glycine, by simulating meteorite impacts. This time, they replaced the carbon source with bicarbonate and conducted hypervelocity impact experiments at 1 km/s using a single stage propellant gun.

They found the formation of a far larger variety of life’s building blocks, including two kinds of nucleobases and nine kinds of proteinogenic amino acids. The results suggest a new route for how genetic molecules may have first formed on Earth.

The article can be found at: Furukawa et al. (2015) Nucleobase and Amino Acid Formation through Impacts of Meteorites on the Early Ocean.


Source: Tohoku University.
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