Conjuring up images from the movie “It came from Outer Space“, it turns out we may all be from space. Some of us are “spacier” than others. This news of finding the building blocks of life in a meteorite comes as a small surprise. I swear though I’m not related to anyone in Chico by by more than 17,000 AU.
Scientists have confirmed that the components of genetic material could have originated in a place other than Earth.
The Murchinson Meteorite, more here
Here is the paper: “Extraterrestrial nucleobases in the Murchison meteorite”, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Sunday 15 June 2008 (Print publication)
A full copy of the research (HTML and PDF) can be downloaded at:
“They tested the meteorite material to determine whether the molecules came from the solar system or were a result of contamination when the meteorite landed on Earth. The analysis shows that the nucleobases contain a heavy form of carbon which could only have been formed in space. Materials formed on Earth consist of a lighter variety of carbon.”
Here is the full press release:
Imperial College News Release
For Immediate Release:
Friday 13 June 2008
Scientists have confirmed for the first time that an important component of early genetic material which has been found in meteorite fragments is extraterrestrial in origin, in a paper published on 15 June 2008.
The finding suggests that parts of the raw materials to make the first molecules of DNA and RNA may have come from the stars.
The scientists, from Europe and the USA, say that their research, published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, provides evidence that life’s raw materials came from sources beyond the Earth.
The team discovered the molecules in rock fragments of the Murchison meteorite, which crashed in Australia in 1969.
They tested the meteorite material to determine whether the molecules came from the solar system or were a result of contamination when the meteorite landed on Earth.
The analysis shows that the nucleobases contain a heavy form of carbon which could only have been formed in space. Materials formed on Earth consist of a lighter variety of carbon.
Lead author Dr Zita Martins, of the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says that the research may provide another piece of evidence explaining the evolution of early life. She says:
“We believe early life may have adopted nucleobases from meteoritic fragments for use in genetic coding which enabled them to pass on their successful features to subsequent generations.”
Between 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago large numbers of rocks similar to the Murchison meteorite rained down on Earth at the time when primitive life was forming. The heavy bombardment would have dropped large amounts of meteorite material to the surface on planets like Earth and Mars.
Co-author Professor Mark Sephton, also of Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, believes this research is an important step in understanding how early life might have evolved. He added:
“Because meteorites represent left over materials from the formation of the solar system, the key components for life — including nucleobases — could be widespread in the cosmos. As more and more of life’s raw materials are discovered in objects from space, the possibility of life springing forth wherever the right chemistry is present becomes more likely.”