(CBS Local) — Life on earth would not be possible without a key ingredient that came from outer space, according to a breakthrough study.
Little was known about phosphates until now. Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manatoa are providing “compelling new evidence” that this component for life was generated in outer space and delivered to Earth in its first one billion years by meteorites or comets.
The phosphorus compounds were then incorporated in biomolecules found in cells in living beings on Earth.
Without phosphates and diphosphoric acid, two major chemicals that form chromosomes carrying our genetic information, living organisms on Earth would not be able to reproduce and would simply not exist.
The research team was able to replicate interstellar icy grains coated with carbon dioxide and water in an ultra-high vacuum chamber cooled to -450°F to mimic outer space. When exposed to ionizing radiation in the form of high-energy electrons to simulate the cosmic rays in space, these grains created both phosphates and diphosphoric acid.
“On Earth, phosphine is lethal to living beings,” said Andrew Turner, the study’s lead author. “But in the interstellar medium, an exotic phosphine chemistry can promote rare chemical reaction pathways to initiate the formation of biorelevant molecules such as oxoacids of phosphorus, which eventually might spark the molecular evolution of life as we know it.”