Discovering the basic rules of life in a space asteroid.. What is their relationship to the emergence of life on Earth?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Organic molecules were discovered in samples collected by the Japanese “Hayabusa 2” mission from the near-Earth asteroid “Ryugu”.

When analyzing samples collected from two different locations on the asteroid, scientists found uracil, one of the basic nitrogenous bases of RNA, as well as vitamin B3 or niacin (a major cofactor in the metabolism of living organisms).

Uracil is a nuclear base, or a biological compound that contains a nitrogenous base. It is also one of the five nuclear bases in DNA and RNA, i.e. proteins and molecules that host genetic information and instructions necessary for the cells of living organisms.

A study explaining the findings was published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday.

Ryugu is a diamond-shaped, carbon-rich asteroid about 3,000 feet (1 kilometer) across.

Hayabusa2 was the first mission to return a sample of an asteroid’s interior to Earth.

The mission of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency was to collect one sample from the asteroid’s surface in February of 2019, and then fired a copper “cannonball” towards the asteroid to create a 10-meter-wide impact crater.

It then collected a sample from the crater in July 2019, and Hayabusa2 flew over Earth after that to drop the sample in Australia in December 2020.

Researchers have discovered amino acids and other molecules in the Ryugu samples during previous analyses, while uracil and niacin have been found in meteorites that have previously landed on Earth as well.

“Scientists have previously found nucleobases and vitamins in some carbon-rich meteorites, but the issue of pollution from exposure to the Earth’s environment has always been present,” said Yasuhiro Ohba, the study’s lead author and assistant professor at Hokkaido University in Japan.

Ohba added, “Contamination can be ruled out because the Hayabusa2 spacecraft collected two samples directly from the asteroid Ryugu and delivered them to Earth in sealed capsules.”

Basic rules of life in space

The researchers detected the particles when the collected particles from Ryugu were soaked in hot water, and analyzed the results using various observational methods, such as chromatography and mass spectrometry.

Later, the team detected signatures of uracil, niacin, and other nitrogen-containing organic compounds.

“Other biological molecules were also found in the sample, including a range of amino acids, amines and carboxylic acids,” Ohba said.

Taken together, the results from the Ryugu samples so far add to the growing evidence that the basic foundations of life originated in space, with meteorites reaching Earth billions of years ago.

Ohba pointed out that the molecules could have originally formed through photochemical reactions in ice in outer space before the formation of our solar system.

More studies

It is possible that the asteroid “Ryugu” was part of a larger celestial body in the past, such as a comet, before it was broken into pieces as a result of its collision with other space bodies.

“There is no doubt that biologically important molecules such as amino acids and nucleobases in asteroids/meteorites were supplied to Earth,” Ohba said. the early ones.”

As space rocks collided with other planets in our solar system, they may also have carried some of the basic rules for life.

Ohba stressed, “I cannot say that the presence of such components directly leads to the emergence / existence of extraterrestrial life, but its elements such as amino acids and nuclear bases may be present everywhere in space at least.”

Now, the researchers want to know how common these particles are in asteroids.

Fortunately, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will deliver a sample from another asteroid called Bennu to Earth in September.

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