NASA Ames reproduces the building blocks of life in laboratory
“We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, cytosine, and thymine, all three components of RNA and DNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space,” said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. “We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate conditions in outer space, can make several fundamental building blocks used by living organisms on Earth.”
An ice sample is deposited on a cold (approximately -430̊F) substrate in a chamber, where it is irradiated with high-energy ultraviolet (UV) photons from a hydrogen lamp. The bombarding photons break chemical bonds in the ices and break down the ice’s molecules into fragments that then recombine to form new compounds, such as uracil, cytosine, and thymine.
this is certainly interesting, but note that, as friends observed, a) These bases have been produced by various methods in labs before, b) absent ribose and three phosphates, it is not clear how significant the finding is, and c) these are not technically “building blocks of life,” or even DNA, but of nucleotides. The PR concludes,
Nobody really understands how life got started on Earth. Our experiments suggest that once the Earth formed, many of the building blocks of life were likely present from the beginning. Since we are simulating universal astrophysical conditions, the same is likely wherever planets are formed,” says Sandford.
One assumes that the burden of this comment is that the building blocks were not delivered to Earth from space by comets or meteors, which is another current theory. “[T]he same is likely wherever planets are formed” will only be true if we assume, as some do not, that ET life has the same basic building blocks as ours.
Physicist Rob Sheldon’s take: This news release should have been entitled: If I had some ham, I could have a ham sandwich, if I had some bread. Readers?
See also: Can we solve the mystery of the origin of life by creating life in the lab?
So, what really drives origin-of-life research?
For a synopsis of origin of life issues, go here.
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