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Key sugar needed for life could have formed in space

RNA’s ribose found in interstellar ices made in lab

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2:00pm, April 7, 2016
the Carina Nebula

SPACE SUGAR  Ribose, the sugar in RNA, might form on ice grains irradiated by ultraviolet light in stellar nurseries such as the Carina Nebula, one part of which is seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image.

Joni Mitchell was right: We are stardust. Another one of the essential ingredients for life as we know it might have formed in space and then rained down on a young Earth, researchers suggest in the April 8 Science.

The simple sugar ribose — a crucial piece of the molecular machinery inside cells — can form on a blend of ices that have been blasted with ultraviolet radiation, chemist Cornelia Meinert of the University Nice Sophia Antipolis in France and colleagues report. These ices are common to comets and are thought to coat grains of interstellar dust that swirl around young stars.

“This is an amazing result,” says Conel Alexander, a planetary scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. Researchers have been looking at irradiated ices for years, he says, but have never seen ribose show up. Ribose is the backbone of RNA, a molecule that

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