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Cyanide-laced meteorites, may have seeded Earth with the first life

The asteroid Bennu is a CM chondrite, a primitive meteorite that contains cyanide. Cyanide-laced meteorites like this could have seeded the early Earth with the chemical building blocks of life.
(NASA)

Cyanide is not the only and the last hope for the captured spy from a Hollywood movie. It is also a crucial part of the beginning of the chemistry of life…. And now, a new study found that the cyanide could have went to Earth on meteorites.

Samples collected from a group of primitive meteorites, including a major he fell near Murchison, Australia in 1969 — and all contain cyanide, bound in a stable configuration, and with iron, and carbon monoxide. These types of structures are found in enzymes, called hydrogenases, in modern bacteria and archaea, which might suggest that early-life borrowed from the rocks, or that the early Earth’s geology is formed of the same kinds of cyanide compounds, said study co-author Michael Callahan, an analytical chemist, Boise State University. [A Crash! The 10 Biggest impact craters on Earth]

“In the study of these primitive meteorites are like hopping in a time machine and can go back and study the old material,” said Callahan, Live Science. “And then you will find these links to be live, and the old tenets of biology.”

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Callahan and his colleagues have begun a search of the cyanide to the space rock after the publication of a 2011 paper in which they discovered the nucleobases in meteorites. Nucleobases, such as guanine or adenine, they are among the building blocks of DNA. The chemistry of the nucleobases, and their parent asteroids, it seemed it was hanging down on cyanide as a reactant, said Callahan. However, he was not sure that she would be able to find any cyanide on the rocks, and even if it had ever existed. Cyanide is extremely reactive it, said Callahan, and he expected that it would have been taken and implemented long before it landed on the Ground.

However, the study co-author Karen Smith, a Boise State an analytical chemist, has a background in the cyanide analysis, allowing the researchers collected samples of meteorites, most of which had been discovered in the Antarctic. Five of the rocks were of a particular type of carbonaceous chondrite, called the CM chondrites, that contain the nucleobases as well as other building blocks of biology, such as amino acids. One of the CM chondrites were in the Murchison meteorite, which landed in Australia in 1969, stunning the local population, with a large ball of fire.

To find and extract the cyanide, the researchers borrowed techniques that are commonly used to make the toxic things in the waste that is left over from the industrial process, said Callahan. They use acid to extract compounds from the rocks, and then subjected to a battery of analyses, including mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography, both of which they were able to identify the constituent parts of the collected material.

Cyanide of surprises

To their surprise, the researchers found cyanide. Each of the CM chondrites, contained the chemical, while all the other types of meteorites are made. (The researchers even tested for a famous Mars meteorite that has ever been claimed to have proof of extra-terrestrial life — – – no cyanide in there.)

The cyanide appears to have survived for billions of years in outer space and a fiery trip to the peace and quiet in the icy waters of Antarctica, because it was bound to be in a stable configuration, with concentrations of carbon monoxide, and iron (fe). “This is truly a classic inorganic chemistry,” said Callahan.

How stable is the cyanide that can be released from the meteorite, Callahan added, and that’s what makes it amazing as is possible-a player is in the origin of life. A combination of water and ultra-violet light and may have made cyanide from the meteorites to the Earth, to the aerial bombardment by space rocks, common. In this way, the meteor could have been strengthened with the available cyanide as the chemical reactions that led, ultimately, to a living cell, said Callahan.

You can also see the young Earth cyanide, it would have been a home-grown, said of Callahan. However, if that is the case, it might have been created in a very similar way as on the rocks. Rocks are made out of the same space dust and ice that formed on the planet, but they have not been altered by geochemical processes.

The other is an intriguing surprise, said Callahan, was the strange similarities between the meteorite and the rest of the carbon monoxide, iron, and cyanide, and parts of the top of some of the oldest groups of it’s life, the archaea, and bacteria. Bacteria and archaea have the enzymes, called hydrogenases, said Callahan, and the active site of enzymes, where the binding is happening, is the same as that of the cyanide, the structures seen in the meteorites.

“Maybe this [meteorite-links], are the precursors of the active sites,” said Callahan.

That is, it is not proven yet, Callahan said, but the research team plans to continue to work on meteorite chemistry. As a future direction, it would be able to come up with a thank you to the current NASA mission, OSIRIS-Rex will collect a sample of asteroid Bennu, and deliver it to Earth in 2023. Bennu might be a CM chondrite, said Callahan, is that it would be an interesting opportunity to study a pristine sample of an asteroid parent body.

Callahan and his colleagues, report on their work and on 25 June in the open-access journal, Nature Communications.

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Originally published on Live Science.

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