Formaldehyde: Poison could have set the stage for the origins of life

Apr 04, 2011
Formaldehyde: Poison could have set the stage for the origins of life
This is a cross-section of a chondritic meteorite.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Formaldehyde, a poison and a common molecule throughout the universe, is likely the source of the solar system's organic carbon solids—abundant in both comets and asteroids. Scientists have long speculated about the how organic, or carbon-containing, material became a part of the solar system's fabric. New research from Carnegie's George Cody, along with Conel Alexander and Larry Nittler, shows that these complex organic solids were likely made from formaldehyde in the primitive solar system. Their work is published online April 4 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We may owe our existence on this planet to interstellar formaldehyde," Cody said. "And what's ironic about it is that formaldehyde is poisonous to on Earth."

During the early period of the inner solar system's formation, much of the organic carbon that wasn't trapped in primitive bodies was lost to space, along with much of the water. Prior to this study numerous competing ideas emerged to explain the existence of primitive organic solids. Cody, of the Geophysical Laboratory, along with Alexander and Nittler, of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, and the team decided to study primitive solar system objects using advanced methods. What they discovered clearly pointed to a polymer formed from formaldehyde.

They tested their conclusion with experiments to reproduce the type of organic matter found in carbonaceous chondrites, a type of organic-rich meteorite, starting with formaldehyde. They found that their formaldehyde-synthesized organic material was not only similar to that found in carbonaceous chondrites, but also similar to organic material found in a comet named 81P/Wild 2, pieces of which were collected in space by NASA's Stardust mission, as well as in interplanetary dust particles, or particles from space that likely originated from comets and asteroids.

Their results make sense, because is relatively abundant throughout the galaxy and the polymerization process would have been possible under conditions of the primitive solar system.

"Establishing the likely origin of the principal source of in primitive bodies is extremely satisfying," Cody said.

Explore further: A new synthetic amino acid for an emerging class of drugs

Provided by Carnegie Institution

4.5 /5 (4 votes)

Related Stories

'Ultra-primitive' particles found in comet dust

Nov 02, 2009

Dust samples collected by high-flying aircraft in the upper atmosphere have yielded an unexpectedly rich trove of relicts from the ancient cosmos, report scientists from the Carnegie Institution. The stratospheric ...

Scientists fine-tuning methods for Stardust analysis

Mar 22, 2006

On Sunday, January 15, NASA's Stardust mission landed safely with the first solid comet fragments ever brought back to Earth. Members of the mission's Preliminary Examination Team, including several from the ...

Does prebiotic material exist in space?

Mar 26, 2009

Spanish and French astrophysicists have identified a band in the infrared range that serves to track the presence of organic material rich in oxygen and nitrogen in the interstellar dust grains. Should any ...

First measurement of the age of cometary material

Feb 25, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Though comets are thought to be some of the oldest, most primitive bodies in the solar system, new research on comet Wild 2 indicates that inner solar system material was transported to the ...

Scientist uncovers relics of ancient cosmos

Dec 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A University of Manchester scientist, working as part of an international team, has uncovered an unexpectedly rich trove of relicts from the ancient cosmos.

Recommended for you

A new synthetic amino acid for an emerging class of drugs

Aug 31, 2014

Swiss scientists have developed a new amino acid that can be used to modify the 3-D structure of therapeutic peptides. Insertion of the amino acid into bioactive peptides enhanced their binding affinity up to 40-fold. Peptides ...

Protein glue shows potential for use with biomaterials

Aug 28, 2014

Researchers at the University of Milan in Italy have shown that a synthetic protein called AGMA1 has the potential to promote the adhesion of brain cells in a laboratory setting. This could prove helpful ...

User comments : 0