Other building blocks of life including amino acids and nucleobases have been discovered on meteorite samples before, but another crucial component for life, sugar, was always a missing piece. Now, for the first time ever, a team of scientists found evidence of sugars in space rocks, suggesting that it, too, possibly came to Earth via space rocks that impacted Earth.

Sugar In Meteorites

An international team of researchers discovered the presence of sugars including ribose, arabinose and xylose in ancient meteorite samples when they were analyzing meteorite samples through gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.

Naturally, the team considered the possibility that the samples they tested were contaminated on Earth. However, upon further analysis they discovered that the carbon in the sugars on the meteorite samples was enriched in 13 C beyond the amount typically seen in Earth biology, suggesting that the sugars were really likely from space.

Building Blocks Of Life

What’s important about these sugars is that they are essential building blocks of life, with Ribose being a crucial component of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid). DNA is the template for life on Earth, carrying vital information on how to create and operate a living organism. On the other hand, RNA also carries vital information, has the capability to copy itself without help from other molecules, and even initiate or speed up chemical reactions.

Given the characteristics of RNA, many scientists believe that it evolved first before DNA, acting as the catalyst for life on Earth before DNA did. What's interesting about the find is that researchers did not detect the sugar in DNA in the samples; thereby, supporting the hypothesis.

“The research provides the first direct evidence of ribose in space and the delivery of the sugar to Earth,” lead author of the study Yoshihiro Furukawa of Tohoku University, Japan said. “The extraterrestrial sugar might have contributed to the formation of RNA on the prebiotic Earth which possibly led to the origin of life.”

After this breakthrough discovery, researchers are set to analyze more meteorites to test the abundance of the extraterrestrial sugars, and if have a left-handed or a right-handed bias just like the sugars on Earth.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The lights of an approaching plane are pictured as a meteor streaks past stars in the night sky, on the outskirts of Cancun Reuters/STA