NASA Experiment Shows That Sugar Molecules Can Form In Space

Posted: Dec 23 2018, 5:38am CST | by , Updated: Dec 23 2018, 5:40am CST, in Latest Science News


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NASA Experiment Shows that Sugar Molecules can Form in Space
Researchers Michel Nuevo, Christopher Materese and Scott Sandford study the cosmic origins of molecules at NASA's Ames Research Center. Credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart

Researchers were able to create DNA's sugar in a laboratory experiment that replicates extreme conditions in space.

In a laboratory experiment that mimics space-like conditions, NASA astrophysicists are able to create sugar molecules. This sugar is not the white, crystalline one that we use to make cookies or add in our tea or coffee. Instead, it is a complex variety of sugar that has formed life on Earth. The results indicate that critical ingredients of life could be widespread in the universe and potentially exist in other planets as well.

"We don't yet know whether life is common in the universe, but we're pretty sure the presence of life's building blocks is not a limiting factor.” Lead researcher Michel Nuevo from NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley said in a statement.

Despite years of effort, researchers still do not know how life started on Earth. There are two widely accepted theories. One theory says that the building blocks of life were created on Earth. Other suggests that complex molecules could have formed in space and brought to Earth via asteroid or comet.

The chemical processes that created the building blocks of life in space have intrigued researchers for decades. Previous studies investigated whether the conditions in space would actually allow organic molecules to form. Their findings showed that a number of small molecules can produce in a cold, full of radiation space-like environment.

In the latest effort, researchers created simulated interstellar space environment and showed that it is sufficient for producing 2-deoxyribose, a sugar component in DNA.

The experiment was carried out in a vacuum chamber in which an aluminum substance cooled to almost absolute zero was placed. Then, researchers added a gaseous mixture of water and methanol in the chamber. To simulate radiation from stars, they exposed the sample with ultraviolet light. When researchers examined the resulting material, they found a variety of sugar derivatives as well as a small amount of 2-deoxyribose.

This is the first time that the formation of DNA's sugar has been achieved in an astrophysical setting.

“For more than two decades we've asked ourselves if the chemistry we find in space can make the kinds of compounds essential to life. So far, we haven't picked a single broad set of molecules that can't be produced," said Scott Sandford, a study author and senior scientist in the Ames astrochemistry lab "The universe is an organic chemist. It has big beakers and lots of time – and the result is a lot of organic material, some of which is useful to life."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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