Home TechnologyTech News For the first time, a key building block for life was found in an asteroid

For the first time, a key building block for life was found in an asteroid

For the first time, a key building block for life was found in an asteroid

Researchers at NASA and in Japan have found HMT — a key ingredient for life — trapped inside an asteroid. This chemical is used in building other organic materials, including some of the molecules which drive the mechanisms of life.

Life on Earth is based on organic materials, built on carbon and hydrogen. These chemicals often also contain oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements.

Three different carbon-rich meteorites were found to contain a prebiotic organic molecule called hexamethylenetetramine (also called hexamine, or HMT). This chemical, used to treat urinary infections as well as in the manufacture of blasting caps, is thought to play an important role in the development of organic material within asteroids.

The development of amino acids and sugars often relies upon formaldehyde and ammonia. However, both these chemicals easily break down in the harsh environment of space. This led scientists to question how significant quantities of organic material found in asteroids may have formed. This new study may hold the answer.

“HMT does not vaporize even at room temperature, and it can produce both molecules if it is heated with liquid water inside asteroids. Finding HMT in meteorites confirms the hypothesis that it is a stable source for ammonia and formaldehyde in asteroids,” Yasuhiro Oba of Hokkaido University in Japan stated.

[Read: Meet the 4 scale-ups using data to save the planet]

Early in the history of the Solar System, asteroids were heated by collisions and the decay of radioactive elements. With enough heating, HMT within asteroids containing liquid water could have broken down into formaldehyde and ammonia. These could, in turn, can react to produce amino acids and other complex organic molecules.

Within living systems, some amino acids are used to make proteins. These are found in hair and nails, and they regulate and aid chemical reactions.

The presence of organic compounds in asteroids has been well-studied. However, the process by which these chemicals were formed remains a question, driving research.

Laboratory experiments show that combinations of water, ammonia and methanol in conditions similar to those in space can produce organic compounds — including HMT.


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