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UH Manoa researchers uncover origins of life's building blocks in space
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UH Manoa researchers uncover origins of life's building blocks in space
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 15, 2024

Researchers at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa have made a key discovery about the formation of essential molecules in space, which could provide insights into how life began on Earth.

A team from the Department of Chemistry has identified how nitrogen-carrying aromatic molecules can form in space. These molecules are crucial in many chemical and biological processes and are found in compounds like pharmaceuticals, dyes, plastics, and natural products. They are also present in important biomolecules such as amino acids, nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), and vitamins.

Led by Professor Ralf I. Kaiser, the team used molecular beams to simulate the conditions of the Taurus Molecular Cloud and Titan's atmosphere. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere similar to early Earth. Collaborating with Professor Alexander M. Mebel from Florida International University, Professor Xiaohu Li from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Professor Jean-Christophe Loison from the University of Bordeaux, postdoctoral fellow Zhenghai Yang identified fundamental structural units of these aromatic molecules. This work offers new insights into how the building blocks of DNA and RNA might have formed in space.

"The study suggests that nitrogen-carrying aromatic molecules-pyridine, pyridinyl, and (iso)quinoline-could have been synthesized in environments that scientists are really honing in on due to their similarities to Earth," Kaiser said. "Understanding how these molecules form is vital for unraveling the mysteries of life's origins. Findings like these could have future implications, including for practical applications not only in biotechnology and synthetic biology, but also in combustion sciences."

Research Report:Low-temperature formation of pyridine and (iso)quinoline via neutral-neutral reactions

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