Ribose and related sugars from ultraviolet irradiation of interstellar ice analogs

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Science  08 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6282, pp. 208-212
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8137

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Making ribose in interstellar ices

Astrobiologists have long speculated on the origin of prebiotic molecules such as amino acids and sugars. Meinert et al. demonstrated that numerous prebiotic molecules can be formed in an interstellar-analog sample containing a mixture of simple ices of water, methanol, and ammonia. They irradiated the sample with ultraviolet light under conditions similar to those expected during the formation of the solar system. This yielded a wide variety of sugars, including ribose—a major constituent of ribonucleic acid (RNA).

Science, this issue p. 208


Ribose is the central molecular subunit in RNA, but the prebiotic origin of ribose remains unknown. We observed the formation of substantial quantities of ribose and a diversity of structurally related sugar molecules such as arabinose, xylose, and lyxose in the room-temperature organic residues of photo-processed interstellar ice analogs initially composed of H2O, CH3OH, and NH3. Our results suggest that the generation of numerous sugar molecules, including the aldopentose ribose, may be possible from photochemical and thermal treatment of cosmic ices in the late stages of the solar nebula. Our detection of ribose provides plausible insights into the chemical processes that could lead to formation of biologically relevant molecules in suitable planetary environments.

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