Key phosphorus-based molecule for life on Earth may have come from space

phys.org | 9/27/2018 | Staff
adele2234 (Posted by) Level 3
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The answer to "How did the first organisms on Earth incorporate the critical element phosphorus?" has been a quandary for researchers, but, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa physical chemists believe a meteoric visitor could be the critical link. Phosphorus is a key element for the molecules that compose all living organisms and helps form the backbone of DNA molecules, cell membranes (phospholipids), even bones and teeth. However, most phosphorus on Earth is bound in a state that does not allow for easy release or access. Modern organisms have evolved to extract the limited supplies of phosphorus in water.

UH Mānoa physical chemists in collaboration with colleagues from France and Taiwan have suggested that alkyl phosphonic acids, which are the only known phosphorus-containing organic compounds of extraterrestrial origin and were delivered to Earth on the Murchison meteorite, could have been the early source of soluble organic phosphorus available for Earth's first organisms.

Detection - Techniques - UH - WM - Keck

Using sophisticated laser-based detection techniques available at UH's W.M. Keck Laboratory in Astrochemistry to identify newly formed molecules. The researchers discovered alkylphosphonic acid can be produced in cold extraterrestrial ices that could eventually become incorporated into space debris such as meteorites and comets that fall to or impact on Earth. That path for the alkyl phosphonic acid then became available for the first life on Earth. This is a key discovery as it connects the prebiotic origin of the element phosphorus back billions of years to ice in deep space. "It also provides a critical...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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