Tuesday, May 30, 2023

They find an essential molecule for life in the asteroid Ryugu

The first emergence of life forms on our planet remains a mystery, but a recent discovery by a Japanese scientific team could shed new light on the first organisms to thrive on Earth. First, the basic elements of RNA were found in an asteroid that plowed through the solar system from its origin some 4.5 billion years ago.

Their study, published in the journal Nature, demonstrates the discovery of the five genetic letters (or nucleobases) that make up RNA (ribonucleic acid, which is made up of a chain of nucleotides) in the asteroid Ryugu. These are the five letters, adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine and uracil, which combine with ribose and phosphate to form DNA and RNA, the structural ladder that constitutes the genetic code of all life on earth.

To accomplish this pioneering detection, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sent Hayabusa2 on a journey of 321 million kilometers to reach Ryugu, an asteroid that, according to the research done to date, is likely to occur in time. the same nebula that gave rise to the sun and our solar planets.

After landing on the space rock in 2018, the Hayabusa2 probe scraped about 5.4 miles off Ryugu’s surface and returned a series of samples to Earth. Now the chemical analysis of these remains revealed the presence of uracil (‘u’ from the five letters mentioned above), a molecule of four carbon atoms, four hydrogen, two nitrogen and two oxygen atoms (C4H4N202).

Not enough is known about how life formed in Ryugu or the interstellar cloud that originates behind the asteroid and the rest of our solar system. The researchers believe that amino acids and nucleotides could have formed when the interstellar ice was blasted by intense cosmic rays, breaking up the simple molecules contained within and recombining them into more complex shapes. Once trapped in these rocks of the asteroid belt, these molecules were able to reach the Earth by impact via meteorites, where they sparked the first life in the primordial oceans.

The study of asteroids, an opportunity for science

The Ryugu asteroid is a black sphere about 900 meters in diameter, which is between our orbit and Mars. The first space mission of Hayabusa2 was to return a sample of the subsurface of the asteroid Earth, which represents for science a golden opportunity to search for the origin of the universe, since this star rock has remained unchanged since the origin of the solar world. The carbon material it contains is the result of a long chemical process that evolved from the formation of organic matter in those nebulae to the accretion of protoplanets.

Ryugu is not the only space rock explored. In 2021, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected a sample from a diamond asteroid named Bennu. As was the case with Ryugu, when the samples to our planet, which will approach next September, will bring back samples, evidence of organic matter that contains important meanings about the evolution of the solar system and its materials, and can also provide evidence. in what manner life arose from them.

Nation World News Desk
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