NASA Has Detected The Building Blocks of Life in Two Meteorites

Pablo Tucker
November 22, 2019

"The research provides the first direct evidence of ribose in space and the delivery of the sugar to Earth", said Furukawa, lead author of the study.

"The sugar in DNA (2-deoxyribose) was not detected in any of the meteorites analyzed in this study", said Dr. Danny Glavin, also from the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

To be clear, this is not table sugar (sadly, scientists still have no insight into whether aliens prefer their coffee black or sweetened).

In the new study, Furukawa and his colleagues analyzed powder collected from two ancient meteorites: the Murchison meteorite, which fell near Murchison, Australia, in 1969, and meteorite NWA 801, which was discovered in Morocco in 2001.


Asteroid collision brought life to earth? These additional capabilities, combined with the fact that researchers have yet to find the sugars in DNA in meteorites, supports the theory that "RNA coordinated the machinery of life before DNA".

They said extraterrestrial samples containing amino acids and other biological building blocks were found in earlier studies, and added that sugars were some of the essential elements of biological systems.

The team discovered the sugars by analyzing powdered samples of the meteorites using gas chromatography mass spectrometry, which sorts and identifies molecules by their mass and electric charge. The sugars joined nucleobases and amino acids, also ingredients of life, previously found on meteorites.

Ribose is a crucial component of RNA, a versatile molecule carried by all known life-forms.


There's the idea that meteorites carrying ingredients necessary for life may have crashed into Earth during its distant past, supplying compounds that eventually helped lead to the formation of life on our planet. The team found small amounts of ribose in both meteorites - up to 11 parts per billion in NWA 801 and up to 180 parts per billion in Murchison - plus trace amounts of other sugars, including xylose and arabinose.

Although the sugar in DNA was not detected in any of the meteorites, the researchers noted the presence of the "extraterrestrial sugar" that makes up RNA is important, nonetheless, with many researchers thinking it came first, only to be replaced by DNA. One reason is that the carbon in the sugar molecules is abundant in a heavier isotope than that usually found on Earth.

A new study suggests that when some ancient meteorites crash-land on Earth, they bring a dash of extraterrestrial sugar with them.


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