Building Block of Life May Have Come From Deep Space

Nov 17, 2014


Chemists with the University of Hawaii say that a key building block of life may have come from outer space.

They say that Glycerol, an important molecule in Earth’s living organisms may have formed in space more than 4 billion years ago.

The newly published research paper Synthesis of Prebiotic Glycerol in Interstellar Ices was authored by Professor Ralf Kaiser, and Drs. Surajit Maity and Brant M. Jones of the W.M. Keck Research Laboratory in Astrochemistry at UH Mānoa.

To test their theory the scientists have recreated glycerol in an ultra-high vacuum chamber cooled down to 5 degrees above absolute zero. Scientists froze methanol into pieces the size of a grain of sand.  The grains were then treated with radiation, a process that simulates cosmic rays.  The reaction forms a complex organic compound, specifically glycerol.

The Authors wrote: “Our hope and expectation is to propel astrobiologically related research involving the search for the molecular origin of life in our universe to the next level, ultimately leading to the production of an inventory of biorelevant molecules, which could have seeded the evolution of life as we know it,”.

Ralf Kaiser is a professor with UH’s department of Chemistry.

Kaiser’s team theorizes the glycerol may have traveled to earth in the form of ice on board comets or meteors crashing onto the surface of the planet.