12 July 2024
Origins of life: Sugar acid from deep space

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The Cool Formation of Sugar Acid in Space

In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa have successfully synthesized a critical molecule essential for the metabolism of living organisms. This molecule, glyceric acid, has been produced for the first time under extremely low temperatures (10 K) on ice-coated nanoparticles that simulate the conditions found in deep space. This achievement represents a significant step forward in unraveling the origins of life and understanding how essential molecules may have formed in the vast expanse of the universe.

Glyceric acid, the simplest sugar acid, plays a crucial role in a process known as glycolysis, which is responsible for breaking down the food we consume into energy that our bodies can utilize. The team of researchers from the UH Mānoa Department of Chemistry, led by Professor Ralf I. Kaiser, along with postdoctoral fellows Jia Wang and Joshua H. Marks, collaborated with computational chemist Professor Ryan C. Fortenberry from the University of Mississippi to investigate the formation of glyceric acid in cold, carbon dioxide-rich icy environments similar to those found in outer space.

Simulating Space Conditions

The experiments conducted by the research team involved utilizing interstellar model ices and energetic Galactic Cosmic Rays in the laboratory’s W. M. Keck Research Laboratory in Astrochemistry. By mimicking the conditions of space, racemic glyceric acid was successfully formed and detected using photoionization lasers in the gas phase. This groundbreaking achievement sheds light on the potential role of such molecules in the development of life on planets like Earth.

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The findings of this study open up new possibilities for detecting similar molecules in space using advanced telescopes such as ALMA. Professor Kaiser emphasized the significance of these discoveries, stating that molecules like glyceric acid could have been synthesized in molecular clouds and star-forming regions before being transported to Earth via comets or meteorites, contributing to the fundamental building blocks of life.

Implications for Life’s Origins

The implications of this research extend far beyond the confines of our planet, highlighting the interconnectedness between the chemistry within our bodies and the vast expanse of the universe. Professor Fortenberry emphasized how the study’s combination of experimental and computational approaches demonstrates the collaborative nature of scientific exploration, leading to the generation of new knowledge and insights into the origins of life.

The potential presence of molecules like glyceric acid in space underscores the intricate relationship between the chemistry of our bodies and the chemistry of the cosmos. By understanding how these essential molecules form in space, scientists can begin to unravel the mysteries surrounding the origins of life itself, providing valuable insights into the processes that may have led to the emergence of life on Earth and potentially other planets.

Future Directions and Concluding Thoughts

Moving forward, the research team plans to further investigate the formation and presence of key molecules like glyceric acid in space, with the aim of expanding our understanding of the chemical processes that underpin the development of life. The successful synthesis of glyceric acid under simulated space conditions represents a significant milestone in astrochemistry and astrobiology, offering a glimpse into the complex interplay between organic molecules and the cosmic environment.

The discovery of glyceric acid formation in space marks a significant advancement in our quest to uncover the origins of life. By conducting experiments that simulate the extreme conditions of deep space, scientists have provided valuable insights into how essential molecules may have emerged in the early stages of the universe, paving the way for a deeper understanding of the fundamental processes that govern life’s existence. This research not only sheds light on the potential mechanisms behind the origin of life on Earth but also highlights the interconnectedness of chemistry on a cosmic scale, bridging the gap between our understanding of terrestrial biochemistry and the vast mysteries of the cosmos.

Links to additional Resources:

1. www.hawaii.edu 2. www.nasa.gov 3. www.sciencedirect.com

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: glyceric acid, glycolysis, astrochemistry

Glyceric acid
Glyceric acid refers to organic compounds with the formula HOCH2CH(OH)CO2H. It occurs naturally and is classified as three-carbon sugar acid. It is chiral. Salts and esters of glyceric acid are known as glycerates.
Read more: Glyceric acid

Glycolysis
Glycolysis is the metabolic pathway that converts glucose (C6H12O6) into pyruvate and, in most organisms, occurs in the liquid part of cells (the cytosol). The free energy released in this process is used to form the high-energy molecules adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH). Glycolysis is a...
Read more: Glycolysis

Astrochemistry
Astrochemistry is the study of the abundance and reactions of molecules in the universe, and their interaction with radiation. The discipline is an overlap of astronomy and chemistry. The word "astrochemistry" may be applied to both the Solar System and the interstellar medium. The study of the abundance of elements...
Read more: Astrochemistry

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