An MU researcher is trying to tackle the age old question of how life started, and it might not be on a planet’s surface.
MU chemist and chemistry professor Rainer Glaser is using computer models to show that adenine molecules may exist in interstellar dust clouds, which are in the thin expanse of gas between stars. Adenine is a basic component of DNA.
Glaser, the lead author of the study, hopes that by proving that adenine can exist in interstellar space, it will pave the way for other astronomers to search for the molecule. To download the study, click on Theory Describing the Synthesis of Early Life-Forming Chemicals is Presented in Astrobiology.
“This is directly related to how we can make building blocks for life on Earth,” Glaser said. “Previously, we though water and sunlight had to present for life.”
During the past two decades, there has been rapid research on molecules in interstellar space, he said. The research uses a variety of techniques, including radio waves, to identify the location of molecules and how many there are. Adenine has not yet been found, but it is know that hydrogen cyanide gas, which serves as the building blocks of adenine, is present in interstellar space.
The presence of molecules in interstellar space could indicate that planets actually have the formations of life sprinkled onto them, Glaser said. This is a major shift from the traditional belief that life develops on a planet’s surface.
“Maybe it is not as important to have knowledge about the planet’s conditions,” he said. “Planets almost become the last consideration. Planets have to be there to make something out of the existing molecules.”
If adenine is found in space, it could mean that life can exist everywhere, as opposed to only under ideal conditions, he said. Ideal conditions have long been based off Charles Darwin’s “warm-little pond” theory. Glaser points to the existence of life deep in the ocean or in the hot springs of Yellowstone as other examples of life existing in extreme conditions.
Glaser said his research is in the beginning stages, but he does think it could change how humans perceive themselves.
“It’s not going to change everyday life or the way people eat or drive, right away,” he said. “But it is kind of like when our the perspective of ourselves changed after we found out that our sun is among billions of suns in a galaxy among trillions of galaxies,” he said.