NASA confirms DNA sugar can be made in space, sees life could be all over universe

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NASA confirms DNA sugar can be made in space, sees life could be all over universe

December 23, 2018

KARACHI:NASA lab confirms DNA sugar can be made in space, giving evidence that life could be all over the universe, according to a NASA release issued from New York on Sunday.

NASA researchers at the Ames’ Astrophysics and Astrochemistry Lab in Mountain View, California have provided the first experimental evidence demonstrating that the sugar in DNA – 2-deoxyribose – can be formed in interstellar space.

In their study, Michel Nuevo, George Cooper, and Scott Sandford combined organic compounds, water vapour, and light – all elements present in interstellar space – inside a vacuum chamber mimicking the cosmic environment and observed the results. Along with the DNA sugar, a variety of other sugar derivatives were found to have been created. This discovery is more evidence that the chemical building blocks of life could be common all over the universe, seeding other planets as they did Earth in the ancient past.

One of the biggest questions science is constantly pursuing is whether we are alone in the universe, a research endeavour that takes many paths. Astrophysicist Carl Sagan is famously quoted often, saying, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff.” It meant that the universe is filled with the building blocks of life, thus the pursuit to find out how those building blocks combine to actually form life is an endeavour with the farthest reaching implications. Scott Sandford, one of the study’s researchers, added to this in reference to his own team’s experiment, saying, “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.”

To make their discovery, the Ames team cooled an aluminium substance to near absolute zero inside a vacuum chamber (since space is a vacuum), and added a mixture of water vapour and methanol gas before exposing it to ultraviolet light and heat, fully mimicking the interstellar environment. The space between stars is filled with dust and gases and is constantly subjected to light particles bombarding in from every radiation-emitting source around it. The experiment was designed to help answer the question of whether the space environment itself can make the compounds essential to life rather than just the single-elemental building blocks. Another team of researchers in France previously discovered the creation of ribose – the sugar in RNA, a possible precursor to DNA – in an experiment similar to the current study, setting the stage for the team’s further findings.

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