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An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Most Planets May Be Seeded With Life
26 November 2008 (All day)
Astronomers have detected a building block of RNA floating within the hot, compact core of a massive star-forming region in the Milky Way. The molecule appears to have formed with all of the other stuff that makes up planets, suggesting that many other worlds are seeded with some of life's ingredients right from birth.
Two of the greatest questions of existence--Are we alone? and How did we get here?--remain unanswered. Clues keep coming, and they are tantalizing. Over the past decade, astronomers have detected organic molecules inside meteorites and even in space (ScienceNOW, 28 March). But these latter substances have not been found in the clouds of dust and gas around new stars that can form planets, making their link to life tenuous.
The new find, described this week in the journal Astro-ph, is stronger. Using the IRAM radio dish array in France, a team of European astronomers has detected glycolaldehyde--a simple sugar that makes up ribose, one of the constituents of RNA--within the core of what appears to be a coalescing disk of dust and gas in a star-forming region called G31.41+0.31, about 26,000 light-years away. The sugar molecule can apparently form in a simple reaction between carbon monoxide molecules and dust grains.
The discovery is significant for two reasons. First, G31.41+0.31 lies far away from the radiation-filled center of the Milky Way, so if any biological processes start up there, they will have a chance to establish themselves. Second, the abundance of glycolaldehyde in the G31.41+0.31 cloud suggests that the molecule is "common throughout star-forming regions," says astrophysicist and co-author Serena Viti of University College London. The implication is that wherever there is starmaking and planet formation going on, organic building blocks could be assembling as well.
Maybe so, but radio astronomer Karl Menten of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, says we're still a long way from observing life taking hold. In our own planet's case, for example, he says, "It is not clear to what extent complex interstellar molecules survived the violent forces accompanying Earth's initial formation."
Astrobiologist Michael Mumma of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, says it's possible that life's building blocks arrive on planets after this violent period has passed. Glycolaldehyde, for example, seems to be located in an area of the star-forming region where it could become part of comets. If so, Mumma says, some of those comets could eventually deliver the sugar to young planets.