Report: Space sugar sweetened primordial soup
By Richard Stenger
(CNN) -- The discovery of sugar and several related organic compounds in two rare meteorites offers fresh evidence that key building blocks to life originated in outer space, according to a new NASA study.
In the past, scientists investigating meteorites had detected other organic molecules, or carbon compounds, which are linked to the origin of life.
And last year, NASA astronomers announced they had spotted a compound similar to table sugar near the center of the Milky Way.
But the new finding is the first of sugary organic compounds in primordial space rocks recovered on Earth.
"Finding these compounds greatly adds to our understanding of what organic materials could have been present on Earth before life began," said George Cooper, lead scientist for the report.
"Sugar chemistry appears to be involved in life as far back as our records go."
Cooper and colleagues at NASA's Ames Research Center discovered the compounds in carbonaceous meteorites, extremely uncommon space rocks that contain many of the raw materials associated with life.
They reported their findings in the December 20 issue of the journal Nature.
Many scientists speculate that intense bombardments of comets and meteorites about 4 billion years ago contributed to the dawn of life on our planet.
The extraterrestrial rain delivered essential organic materials such as oxygen, sulfur, hydrogen and nitrogen, according to planetary geologists.
The sugary substances discovered by Cooper and his colleagues could have sweetened the primordial soup even more. They are vital to the basic biological functioning of all known life forms.
Some of the compounds have more novel uses, like dihydroxyacetone, an active ingredient in most artificial tanning products.
At any rate, the new study gives a boost to the budding theory that the seeds of life are sprinkled throughout the cosmos.
"This discovery shows that it's highly likely organic synthesis critical to life has gone on throughout the universe," said Kenneth Souza, director of space biology research at Ames, which is located in Moffett Field, California.
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