- Carlos Serrano (@carliserrano)
- BBC News World
How did life arise on Earth? Nobody knows, but knowing the ingredients that made this possible can give us valuable clues.
In a recent study, a group of Spanish researchers claimed to have discovered one of these components in space, very close to the center of Milky Way.
It’s about extension ethanolamine, which is a molecule present in Cell membrane For all living things this is now, for the first time, observed outside our planet.
“This can help us understand how it works The first cells on Earth“,” Victor M. Rivilla, one of the co-authors of the study developed by the Spanish Space Research Center (CAB), a Spanish government research center affiliated with NASA’s Institute of Astrobiology, told BBC Mundo.
This discovery leaves open the possibility of the ingredients that make life possible Other places in the universe different from the land.
What is ethanolamine and what evidence does it give us the origin of life What do we know?
The main molecule of life
Ethanolamine is a molecule that contains four of the six chemical elements essential to life: Oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon.
In addition, it is a component of cell membranes, the protective layer that covers the cells of all living organisms and allows cells to exist within them. Genetic and metabolic processes.
“Understanding how these membranes form is an essential step in understanding them How are living things formed?Rivilla dice.
How did they find it?
Ethanolamine was previously discovered in meteorites, but it is not clear how it got there.
Now, with the help of two radio telescopes, Rivella and her colleagues have discovered ethanolamine in a molecular cloud found in 100,000 light years from Earth.
In space, particles vibrate and emit photons, which are particles of light.
“The way each molecule vibrates is like its signature,” Rivella says.
Thus, by detecting the path of the photon inside the cloud, the researchers observed that vibrations They were observing millions of ethanolamine molecules in that cloud at the center of the galaxy.
Because it is important?
The results of the research indicate that ethanolamine is present in molecular clouds in space, where they are formed. new stars and planets
So Rivella and his team’s conclusion is that ethanolamine may have been present in asteroids that are known to bombard Earth much earlier, billions of years ago.
“We estimate that about a thousand trillion (1 followed by 15 zeros!) liters of ethanolamine could have passed to Earth early through meteor impactsIsascon Jiménez Serra, a CAB researcher and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
In this way, the molecule can have Come to our planet from space, and once here it could be combined with other molecules that helped form more efficient and robust cell membranes that favored the evolution of the first organisms.
“Ethanolamine is one of the really complex molecules that has been discovered in space that are straightforward and undeniably related “Biology as we know it,” says Maguire, an astronomer and professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who was not involved in the research.
The fact that these fundamental particles exist in space suggests that, under the right conditions, they could give rise to life forms elsewhere in the universe.
“If the components of life are scattered throughout the universe, it is also possible that Life can arise anywhere Once the conditions are favorable, ”says astrochemist Sergio Iupolo, referring to this result, in an article on the portal inverse.
“Perhaps life is no exception, but rather an extra step in the has evolved of regions of space where stars are formed,” adds Ibolo, a researcher at Queen Mary University of London, who was not involved in this study.
McGuire, for his part, explains that the fact that ethanolamine is present in this interstellar region does not mean that there are cell membranes there, or that this molecule is present. Mutual in the space.
Rivella and his team already suspected that ethanolamine molecules might exist in deep space, because other molecules with a similar chemical structure had already been discovered before.
Now they already have the certainty that they are there, but the question that still lingers is How were they formed those particles.
This is the next task.
Through theoretical studies, chemical models and experiments that mimics the stellar medium, Rivella and her colleagues want to understand the origin of the ethanolamine molecules.
In addition, thanks to the fact that radio telescopes are becoming increasingly sensitive and sophisticated, they hope to discover other types of complex molecules that may have led to the formation of cell membranes, but also RNA and DNA containing genetic information; The proteins responsible for metabolism.
Assembling this spatial puzzle may be the key to understanding the origin of life‘ concludes Rivella.
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