A new study by researchers from NASA and the Boise State University in Idaho revealed that cyanide and carbon monoxide in meteorites, which is known to be poisonous to humans may have been responsible for helping life thrive on Earth.

Through history and popular culture, people have become well aware of the deadly effects of cyanide and carbon monoxide on humans. However, according to a new study, these compounds may have actually helped spark life on the planet.

In a new study published in Nature, researchers noted that carbon-rich meteorites that bombarded Earth millions of years ago contained various compounds including iron, cyanide and carbon monoxide.

According to the study, the combination of these alien compounds resembled hydrogenases, which are enzymes that provide energy to bacteria. The cyanide from the meteorites was also responsible for synthesizing organic compounds on Earth such as amino acids, which form the proteins needed by living organisms.

“When most people think of cyanide, they think of spy movies – a guy swallowing a pill, foaming at the mouth and dying, but cyanide was probably an essential compound for building molecules necessary for life,” senior research scientist Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement.

Through further studies on the meteorites, Smith and her team discovered that those that are rich in cyanide belong to a family of carbon-rich space rocks known as CM chrondites. The study’s co-author Jason Dworkin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center noted that the asteroid Bennu is also related to these type of rocks.

Dworkin said that studies on samples taken from Bennu will help the researchers in gaining a deeper understanding of how cyanide in meteorites helped jumpstart life on the planet.

“Data collected by NASA’s OSIRIS-REX spacecraft of asteroid Bennu indicate that it is related to CM chrondites,” Dworkin said in a statement, “OSIRIS-REX will deliver a sample from Bennu to study on Earth in 2023.”

“We will search for these very compounds to try to connect Bennu to known meteorites and to understand the potential delivery of prebiotic compounds such as cyanide, which may have helped start life on early Earth or other bodies in the solar system,” he added.