A new study suggests that the building blocks of life may not have originated on Earth, but rather giant gas clouds in deep space.
The research theorizes that the building blocks of DNA, known as nucleobases, have been spotted in a simulated environment that echoes "interstellar molecular clouds," which may aid researchers in understanding how life started on our planet.
"This result could be key to unraveling fundamental questions for humankind, such as what organic compounds existed during the formation of the solar system and how they contributed to the birth of life on Earth" the study's lead author, Yasuhiro Oba, said in a statement.
Researchers believe that these organic materials may have come through asteroid collisions and comets traveling through the galaxy as many as 4 billion years ago.
A study published in 2018 suggested that cometlike objects could be "ferrying" microbial life across thousands of light-years. That research added that these microbes might be able to withstand the exceptionally long journey.
A light-year, which measures distance in space, equals 6 trillion miles.
Oba, along with the other researchers, were able to conduct their experiments in an ultra-high vacuum reaction chamber, using a mixture of water (in a gas state), carbon monoxide, ammonia and methanol. They set the temperature to -263 degrees Celsius and attached two deuterium discharge lamps to the chamber to cause the chemical reactions.
Then they used a high-resolution mass spectrometer and a high-performance liquid chromatograph to analyze the material after it was warmed to room temperature and came up with their findings. They discovered several types of nucleobases, including cytosine, uracil, thymine, adenine, xanthine, and hypoxanthine.
Oba and the other researchers also discovered amino acids, which are considered "the building blocks of proteins," along with multiple kinds of dipeptides.
“Our findings suggest that the processes we reproduced could lead to the formation of the molecular precursors of life,” Oba added. “The results could improve our understanding of the early stages of chemical evolution in space.”
The study has been published in Nature Communications.