A recent study, published in the Journal of Chemical Physics, presented an astrophysics experiment which explains how the blocks of life can form in space. Researchers mimicked the space environment in the lab to observe if the essential molecules, those which are necessary to build the life as we know it, can have chemical reactions between them, in order to create life forms.
In a vacuum environment at cryogenic temperatures, bombarded by electrons, the scientists placed ice pieces containing carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia molecules, which are the basis for the so-called blocks of life.
“You just need the right combination of ingredients. These molecules can combine, they can chemically react, under the right conditions, to form larger molecules which then give rise to the bigger biomolecules we see in cells like components of proteins, RNA or DNA, or phospholipids,” explained Michael Huels, the leading author of the experiment.
Scientists obtained glycine, an essential molecule found in the blocks of life
After bombarding the before-mentioned basic molecules with low-energy electrons (after trying with UV, X-ray, and cosmic radiations) the researchers have obtained glycine, a complex molecule formed by hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Glycine is an essential molecule of life.
During the experiment, a single glycine molecule has formed for each of the 260 low-energy electrons exposures.
According to Huels, what we need to keep in mind is that “in space, there is a lot of time,” thus, such results could’ve been obtained naturally in the early years of the Universe.
“We find that it is actually quite realistic (…) the formation of glycine or similar biomolecules,” said Huels.
Therefore, the researchers have proven that essential molecules that form the so-called blocks of life can form in space and only then they migrated to planets, leading to an interesting theory about the origins of life on Earth.