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Building Blocks Of DNA Come From Space
August 9, 2011 10:36 AM   Subscribe

NASA Proves Building Blocks Of DNA Come From Space. "NASA researchers studying meteorites have found that they contain several of the components needed to make DNA on Earth. The discovery provides support for the idea that the building blocks for DNA were likely created in space, and carried to Earth on objects, like meteorites, that crashed into the planet’s surface. According to the theory, the ready-made DNA parts could have then assembled under Earth’s early conditions to create the first DNA."
posted by homunculus (44 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
NASA Researchers: DNA Building Blocks Can Be Made in Space

Science Reporters: NASA Proves Building Blocks Of DNA Come From Space

>.<
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:41 AM on August 9, 2011 [45 favorites]


I don't like being indebted and never accept big gifts. Send it back.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 10:42 AM on August 9, 2011


But nonetheless, a really interesting story.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:42 AM on August 9, 2011


I look forward to the next Chick tract citing this news release as NASA proving DNA comes from Heaven. (Like the one that has NASA finding the time God stopped the sun in the sky for Joshua in the Battle of Jericho.)
posted by DU at 10:43 AM on August 9, 2011


ALL HAIL GALACTUS!
posted by klangklangston at 10:43 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of something I recently bought which claimed to use all American made parts...but is assembled in China.

Again, I feel kinda ripped off.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:45 AM on August 9, 2011


This is a bad headline, as Zalzidrax points out. First, science does not involve "proving" anything in a logical sense. Second, I think it implies that we now know that DNA originally developed from spaceborne precursors, but we no know such thing and the NASA scientists aren't arguing this either.

Yes, interesting, but I wish the headline-writers didn't mess this one up so badly.
posted by grouse at 10:45 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thinking about this stuff makes me swing back and forth between "we are just insignificant blobs on a tiny planet off in a far corner of the Universe" and "holy shit this planet Earth and everything on it is astonishing and precious."
posted by ambrosia at 10:46 AM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did we need to get these building blocks from a meteorite? Are we confident that that they were not present in the Earth already?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:46 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like the one that has NASA finding the time God stopped the sun in the sky for Joshua in the Battle of Jericho

[citation needed]
posted by griphus at 10:47 AM on August 9, 2011


NASA REVEALS THAT EARTH IS IN SPACE. MILLIONS OF MINDS BLOWN!
posted by blue_beetle at 10:47 AM on August 9, 2011 [18 favorites]


Well, one way to read the headline is "The building blocks of life are constantly being rained down (i.e. 'coming') from space). So that's correct.

But yeah, we aren't demonstrably starstuff yet.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:48 AM on August 9, 2011


Thinking about this stuff makes me swing back and forth between "we are just insignificant blobs on a tiny planet off in a far corner of the Universe" and "holy shit this planet Earth and everything on it is astonishing and precious."

The truth is that "astonishing", "insignificant", "precious" and "tiny" are all human concepts. The Universe doesn't know what those things are.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:48 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't like being indebted and never accept big gifts. Send it back.

This has to be an ask vs guess culture thing. My mom says hello and recommends that you re-wrap it and give it to someone else.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:49 AM on August 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


There goes the neighborhood.
posted by notmydesk at 10:50 AM on August 9, 2011


Apparently science writing is hard:

Samples can become contaminated simply from being handled or coming into contact with these compounds, which isn’t hard to do on Earth since DNA makes up all living things.

This writer should spend a little time with the definitions of "makes up", "all" and "living".
posted by gurple at 10:50 AM on August 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Like the one that has NASA finding the time God stopped the sun in the sky for Joshua in the Battle of Jericho

[citation needed]


Not from Jack Chick, but I'm pretty sure he mentions it in one of his tracts.
posted by DU at 10:53 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


But yeah, we aren't demonstrably starstuff yet.

I don't get it. How can we not be starstuff?
posted by klanawa at 10:55 AM on August 9, 2011


I don't get it. How can we not be starstuff?

I was being glib. Our chemical building blocs do not demonstrably come from meteorites, if you prefer.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:58 AM on August 9, 2011


Scientists: We've discovered materials from extra-terrestrial sources that give strong credence to the theory of abiogenesis.

Conservatives: SCIENTISTS PRAISE THE DEATH OF GOD WHILE CHUGGING BEAKERS OF GOAT-BLOOD
posted by FatherDagon at 11:02 AM on August 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


Result!

Glycine and alanine (the G and A in DNA) have been found in comets before (1, 2), but, as far as I'm aware, this range of compunds is new. It's interesting to see the variety in their results. The soup of life may be more common than we thought!

Even weirder, these extra-terrestrial origins may even help explain the handedness of DNA structure. Even if the proteins of life may not have come from outer space (completely), proteins from space many have seeded the crystals of life on earth.
posted by bonehead at 11:07 AM on August 9, 2011


Did we need to get these building blocks from a meteorite? Are we confident that that they were not present in the Earth already?

I think these sorts of molecules would have been destroyed during the early hot period of the Earth. The friction from the original gravitational coalescing of the matter which would make up the Earth would have made it initially a ball of molten metal before it cooled down.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:07 AM on August 9, 2011


Glycine and alanine (the G and A in DNA)[...]
posted by bonehead at 4:07 AM on August 10
Eponysterical?
posted by overyield at 11:14 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Agreed, the headline is overstated. However, this is kind of a big deal. It's really hard to imagine RNA forming by itself here, and if it's constantly raining down on us, Occam and Bayes agree that's the likely origin.

Which, if you think about it, is fucking awesome. All earthly life as a "viral" infection on planets? Neato!

Bad side: if the basic building blocks are this common, it's further evidence that the Great Barrier is ahead of us - IE, if this means life is pretty easy, and we've not seen any except on Earth, it becomes vanishingly likely that we'll ever encounter intelligent spacefaring life, nor get there ourselves. This is another reason I've got such mixed feelings about ever finding "simple" life on Mars. Paradoxical that finding life in space makes it much less likely to ever find any we can talk to, or even leaving our system, but there you go.
posted by freebird at 11:14 AM on August 9, 2011


Yay! Everyone is right!
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:20 AM on August 9, 2011


There are those who believe that life here began out there...
posted by mazola at 11:27 AM on August 9, 2011


So we really ARE all made of stars?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:39 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]



Bad side: if the basic building blocks are this common, it's further evidence that the Great Barrier is ahead of us - IE, if this means life is pretty easy, and we've not seen any except on Earth, it becomes vanishingly likely that we'll ever encounter intelligent spacefaring life, nor get there ourselves. This is another reason I've got such mixed feelings about ever finding "simple" life on Mars. Paradoxical that finding life in space makes it much less likely to ever find any we can talk to, or even leaving our system, but there you go.

I think I'm almost getting this. Freebird, could you explain a little more. Are you saying the more abundant life's building blocks are....the less chance of intelligent life? Clarify for me?
Also 'Great Barrier' The google tells me about some reef and Star Trek.
posted by hot_monster at 11:45 AM on August 9, 2011


We're 'in' space. The Earth doesn't exist outside of it. It got touched by it a lot growing up, like that Uncle you don't like to talk about. So of course 'space' had a hand in creating life here. I don't know why people assume the Earth is untouchable and has been in its own plastic bubble in its entire existence.
posted by Malice at 11:51 AM on August 9, 2011


It's really hard to imagine RNA forming by itself here, and if it's constantly raining down on us, Occam and Bayes agree that's the likely origin.

Why is it less hard to imagine RNA forming by itself somewhere other than here?

I think these sorts of molecules would have been destroyed during the early hot period of the Earth.

Why assume they must have formed before the earth cooled, and not at some point during the billions of years after that?

Right now we have some evidence that these compounds can be found in space, and a lot of evidence that they can be found on Earth. I don't at all see how this suggests, let alone proves, that "they must have originated in space."

The only thing that even hints at that is the one throwaway line at the end of the NASA article:

"In fact, there seems to be a 'goldilocks' class of meteorite, the so-called CM2 meteorites, where conditions are just right to make more of these molecules," adds Callahan.

Were those particular conditions never present on Earth? If so, that would be reasonably strong evidence that the molecules originated somewhere in that 'goldilocks' zone rather than here. Otherwise, it'd seem to be evidence that these molecules are just a lot more common than we thought.

Which is still pretty darn cool.
posted by ook at 11:52 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Freebird's talking about the implications of the Fermi Paradox. Basically, the idea is, if life should be so common, statistically, why haven't we already made contact with other intelligent civilizations or seen concrete evidence of them? One line of thought is that, if it turns out that life really is quite likely statistically speaking but we still don't see clear signs of intelligent, space-faring life, there must be some other set of independent factors that make sustaining intelligent civilizations too difficult or that make space travel too difficult. That's bad news for our chances of either finding intelligent life or achieving sustainable space travel.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:55 AM on August 9, 2011


Unless, of course, intelligent life that can make it over the long haul tends to be shy.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:55 AM on August 9, 2011


Prove, shmove. I'm a space alien.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:11 PM on August 9, 2011


Eponysterical?

Yes, exactly: those are the amino acids G and A, not the DNA proteins. My mistake.
posted by bonehead at 12:14 PM on August 9, 2011


The existence of a wide variety of organic matter in meteorites has been known for a long time. See here, here, here.
posted by spaceviking at 12:31 PM on August 9, 2011


Also 'Great Barrier'

Sorry, "Great Filter", and yes, related to the Fermi Paradox. The resolution of the paradox is that there is a "filter" which makes intelligent life much rarer than we predict it could be. The interesting part is whether this filter occurs early in evolution ("it's hard to develop life") or late ("it's hard to become spacefaring"). If we see a lot of evidence for life all over, it suggests the latter, which is Bad News for those of us wanting to get/talk out of our solar system.

Why is it less hard to imagine RNA forming by itself somewhere other than here?

Lame Reason: Space is REALLY BIG so there's just a lot more chances to try.

Cool Reason: GOD IS ALIENS (and it's turtles all the way down)
posted by freebird at 12:35 PM on August 9, 2011


Wait a minute. I remember a Tom Swift story where he rescues people trapped in an asteroid. They survived by eating organic material they found which tasted, as I recall "like prime Texas steak". So this has actually been known for a long time.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:39 PM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I look forward to the next Chick tract citing this news release as NASA proving DNA comes from Heaven.
Are you kidding? DNA is a liberal myth.
posted by Flunkie at 1:15 PM on August 9, 2011


DU: Not from Jack Chick, but I'm pretty sure he mentions it in one of his tracts.

Sorry, it's simply impossible to imagine that people in the modern world in 1999 believed that NASA discovered that the story of a missing day from the bible was true and affecting their orbital calculations. IT'S A HOAX, I tell you!!
posted by sneebler at 5:41 PM on August 9, 2011


We always seem to assume an origin of life. This is not logically necessary. Life may always have existed.

Quoting William James Sidis, from his book The Animate and the Inanimate:
According to our hypothesis, life always has existed and always will exist under all conditions in some form, though that form may be quite different from any form of life that comes within our experience.
and
Our theory of the origin of life is thus that there was no origin, but only a constant development and change in form. This belongs to the class of theories known as the Biogenetic theories, as contrasted to the Abiogenetic theories, which assume that at some previous time life did not exist, and that under certain special circumstances that existed when the earth was in a heated condition the necessary elements came together somehow and assembled themselves into a living body from which all other living bodies are descended. The nature of this automatic assemblage of constituents remains, of course, rather mystical; not to speak of the fact that the assumption of spontaneous generation is rather contrary to observed facts.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 7:44 PM on August 9, 2011


not to speak of the fact that the assumption of spontaneous generation is rather contrary to observed facts

Just suppose that something like this was happening right now, in the ooze around a deep ocean hydrothermal vent, and the whole process from non-living chemicals to very, very, very primitive proto-life took several million years.

What are the odds of us 'observing' this for what it is?
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:56 PM on August 9, 2011


Bad science writing strikes again. Ugh.
posted by delmoi at 8:00 PM on August 9, 2011


mazola:

There are those who believe that life here began out there...

[from 0:20 to 0:21 in your link] "Some believe!" in that exact same voice with that exact same inflection - but with the volume cranked up a few decibels - used to be my Swiss-army-knife, go-to, two-word quote when I found myself stuck in all manner of awkward or boring conversations.

Then I'd just leave everyone hanging.

ps: Always loved that intro. Cheers for bringing back great memories.

pps: Even adjusted for inflation age - when stupid things were cool - I'd still rank this as top 5 favorite TV series intro.

ppps: Kneel before Zod.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:24 PM on August 9, 2011


This isn't new - we've known that amino acids have been found in meteorites before. This is just saying 'oh there's a couple more types that we haven't found before'.

Amino acids are actually pretty easy to create within nature - and (inorganic) processes quite happily create these molecules in the right environments.

However, here's the issue - the difference between an amino acid and a working protein is MASSIVE. Think of an amino acids as a lego block - fairly simple, but even a simple protein is more like a miniature house built out of lego bricks. A complex replicating molecule, like DNA or even RNA is massively more complicated than this, think a working model of London's Tower bridge. The key, difficult bit is figuring out how the lego bricks landed in the shape of a house, or Tower Bridge. That's the tricky bit.
posted by BigCalm at 5:12 AM on August 10, 2011


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