Did life erupt spontaneously here on Earth, or did it arrive from space? Three meteorites suggest that the “right stuff” to create life may have arrived from the heavens rather than rocks on Earth.
A recent study led by Yasuhiro Oba (Hokkaido Univeristy, Japan) and published in the journal Nature Communications took a new look at three meteorites: the Murchison, Murray, and Tagish Lake meteorites. These particular meteorites have been studied before, but traditional techniques used in examining them for organic molecules would likely have degraded or destroyed the very molecules being sought. Such techniques involved strong acids and hot water.
Oba’s team used far gentler techniques to tease out components contained within the rocky meteorites. And those gentler techniques resulted in firm confirmation that such meteorites may indeed have delivered life-forming ingredients to Earth. The primary suspect being sought was hexamethylenetetramine. Hexa-what??? HTM, for short.
In the presence of hot liquid water, HMT breaks down into formaldehyde and ammonia. I wasn’t a chemistry major, so upon hearing this, I merely shrugged my shoulders. Well, as it turns out, these are prime ingredients to produce amino acids and sugars, which—in turn—can lead to life itself!
Oba’s kinder, gentler method of teasing info from meteorites provides one more link in a chain of evidence that some are using to posit that life on Earth is derived from ingredients delivered from space.
This story about meteorites and life on earth previously appeared in Rock & Gem magazine. Click here to subscribe! Story by Jim Brace-Thompson.