science

Building blocks of DNA could have been present in gas clouds in space, scientists say


The compounds, known as nucleobases, have been detected in an environment set up to mimic that of the clouds which are interspersed between stars. DNA is made up of three separate pieces joined together – a sugar, a nucleosome and a phosphate group. When studies were conducted in the past only two of the three components – sugar and phosphate – were found in a replica of the gaseous clouds. 

But a new study carried out by a team at Hokkaido University in Japan marks the first time all three have been found. 

Researchers constructed a chamber with a temperate of -263 degrees Celsius and a gaseous mixture of water, carbon monoxide, ammonia and methanol was pumped into a material designed to replicate cosmic dust. 

Vacuum ultraviolet light aimed at inducing chemical reactions was supplied via two deuterium discharge lamps attached to the chamber. 

The result was the formation of an icy film on the dust analogue inside the chamber. 

When analysed, the product was found to contain nucleobases such as cytosine, uracil, thymine, adenine, xanthine and hypoxanthine. 

Small quantities of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and several types of dipeptide were also detected in the simulated interstellar cloud environment. 

Yasuhiro Oba of the university’s Institute of Low Temperature Science said: “This result could be key to unravelling fundamental questions for humankind, such as what organic compounds existed during the formation of the solar system and how they contributed to the birth of life on Earth.” 

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The theory is used by many in the scientific field who are trying to establish the origins of life on Earth. 

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Mr Oba said: “Our findings suggest that the process we reproduced could lead to the formation of the molecular precursors of life.” 

The study comes after a team of Australian astronomers analysed data fro the Hubble Space Telescope to better understand the galaxy. 

The team led by Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn concluded that a cataclysmic energy flare may have ripped through our galaxy some 3.5 million years ago. 

Known as a Sifter flare, it is thought to have sliced through the Milky Way with a powerful impact felt 200,000 lightyears away. 

Prof Bland-Hawthorn of the University of Sydney said: “Imagine darkness, and then someone switches on a lighthouse beacon for a brief period of time.” 



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