Could interstellar ice provide the answer to birth of DNA?

Posted on 15 September 2017

Researchers in the Department of Chemistry have shown that molecules brought to earth in meteorite strikes could potentially be converted into the building blocks of DNA.

Chemists provide insight into the prebiotic formation of 2-deoxy- D-ribose, the backbone molecule of DNA

They found that organic compounds, called amino nitriles, the molecular precursors to amino acids, were able to use molecules present in interstellar ice to trigger the formation of the backbone molecule, 2-deoxy-D-ribose, of DNA.  

It has long been assumed that amino acids were present on earth before DNA, and may have been responsible for the formation of one of the building blocks of DNA, but this new research throws fresh doubt on this theory. 

Dr Paul Clarke said: “The origin of important biological molecules is one of the key fundamental questions in science. The molecules that form the building blocks of DNA had to come from somewhere; either they were present on Earth when it formed or they came from space, hitting earth in a meteor shower. 

“Scientists had already shown that there were particular molecules present in space that came to Earth in an ice comet; this made our team at York think about investigating whether they could be used to make one of the building blocks of DNA. If this was possible, then it could mean that a building block of DNA was present before amino acids.”

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Notes to editors:

The research is published in the journal Chemical Communications.