back to article Boffins discover chemistry that could have produced building blocks of life in space

A team of researchers carried out a series of experiments to study how complex hydrocarbons, an important class of molecules needed to create the building blocks for life, formed in space. Hydrocarbons, compounds made up of differing amounts of carbon and hydrogen, are common on Earth but also outside it. Some hydrocarbons, …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Since it requires other hydrocarbons to make pyrene, it doesn’t quite explain how the first hydrocarbons were created.

    Since we have an insufficient understanding/knowledge of this, for now the concept of "magic" works for me.

    1. Rich 11

      Promise me eternal life and I will gladly agree with you. And help you smite the unbelievers, of course.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Life implicitly communicates its timeless source in every instant of event that you are. Such promise is really a sense of integrality that cannot be altogether smitten out of your mind. No need to believe anything that does not resonate to the experience you are the unfolding of - nor to smite any other view.

        Integrality is perceived mechanistically by those who think to replace God. But their thinking is still the 'self' idea to which their reality is subjected. There is no conflict between energy expression of electrically charged relations or events - including atomic and molecular chemistry - when the model is fully accepted as model, and the consciousness communicating through the model and shared in reflection as experience, is recognised as a total event and not a partial exclusion operating independently of the whole.

        The God Idea is rightly the 'Is' or in expression the "I Am". Not because you ar a thing that does thinking, but because the Thought of you knows itself in event.

        The organising principle of desire in focus is purpose, form and relationship.

        To be led by desires in the realm of reflected self-image (model) is to neglect the primary or true desire of 'Know Thyself' - that awareness is the beholding of, regardless the current 'charge state' and relations of any particular focus in event. So 'space' is a polarity to mattering just as awareness to the focus of attention. But matter is not an absence of space or vice versa, and experience or event is not an absence of awareness, but can seem so when energy is bound in particular constructs of compression and expansion. And we 'live' the model of the 'seem so' in experience of conflicting meanings of polarised conditionings - and in this way are more a mechanism running in place of an extending and expanding awareness in all that it is.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Life implicitly communicates

          [Snip much psychobabble rap]

          Get a life eh?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      All it really needs is mobility and energy - mobility, so that the different molecules can meet each other, allowing the opportunity to interact, and energy so that endothermic* interactions can occur. Given enough time, most possible interactions will have occurred, even ones that are very unlikely.

      * An endothermic process requires an input of energy to work. Exothermic processes release energy when they occur.

    3. Pliny the Whiner

      It's a sad day in the universe when Mark 85 is the voice of reason.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Could be worse.... could be amanfrommars.....

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "After these molecules build up on PAHs like pyrene, if they’re exposed to ionizing radiation it can fire up another series of reactions to create amino acids, peptides and sugars."

    Can this process produce the chiral asymmetry of these compounds that we see in biology?

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      "Can this process produce the chiral asymmetry of these compounds that we see in biology?"

      No, but if you imagine a primordial "soup" of complex carbon compounds produced by any or all of a variety of mechanisms, the first self replicating compound to appear might well introduce chirality by means of selective "consumption" of specific isomers. Of course, we're a long way from knowing what self replicating molecules might be involved, how life arose or even if self-replicating molecules were a step in the process..

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice try BUT Fail, Fail, Fail and Fail again. :)

    Sorry but you are only allowed one 'Headline of the Year' award per year !!!

    [Won for 'MY GOD, IT'S FULL OF CARS']


    Please no more 'My god it's full of .......' Headlines, it will never work again (or at least not this year) !!!

    :) ;)

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Nice try BUT Fail, Fail, Fail and Fail again. :)

      Next you'll be complaining about their "Super Cali...." headlines.

      1. Tikimon

        Re: Nice try BUT Fail, Fail, Fail and Fail again. :)

        "Next you'll be complaining about their "Super Cali...." headlines."

        I represent that comment. Recycled jokes are never as funny the second time, and by the tenth repeat it's getting tedious. Can't they think of some NEW jokes now and then? Seriously?

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Nice try BUT Fail, Fail, Fail and Fail again. :)

          "Recycled jokes are never as funny the second time"

          No, but by the fifteenth time they start being funny again.

    2. Pat Harkin

      Re: Nice try BUT Fail, Fail, Fail and Fail again. :)

      I'd have gone for "My god... it's full of carbs...", which is of course evidence for the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    3. Al Black

      Re: Nice try BUT Fail, Fail, Fail and Fail again. :)

      Well Said! It worked for the interplanetary Tesla, but fizzled for Hydrocarbons.

  4. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    The nothingth of a second for which the hole existed reverberated backwards and forwards through time in a most improbable fashion. Somewhere in the deeply remote past it seriously traumatized a small random group of atoms drifting through the empty sterility of space and made them cling together in the most extraordinarily unlikely patterns.

    These patterns quickly learnt to copy themselves (this was part of what was so extraordinary of the patterns) and went on to cause massive trouble on every planet they drifted on to.

    That was how life began in the Universe.

    1. Long John Brass

      Re: DNA

      ... and was widely regarded as a bad move.

      Yes that my towel

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: DNA

        I still have my original THHGTTG Towel from Forbidden planet, it really does look & feel like it's been used to hitch from one end of the galaxy to the other, whilst seeing the marvels it has to offer for less than thirty Altarian dollars a day.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: DNA

          Does it have flavoured flowers that you can suck on when feeling hungry?

        2. Duffy Moon

          Re: DNA

          "I still have my original THHGTTG Towel from Forbidden planet"

          I remember seeing those back when it was in Denmark Street. Too expensive for me, sadly. All I could afford was the 7" with the theme tune on it.

    2. abkp

      Re: DNA

      Yes, these atoms must have held a conference to decide whether, if they clung together, they could do so with or without a permeable membrane to hold them all together. Obviously they decided a membrane was a good idea, so they popped along to B&Q and bought one. It made replication so much easier. And then they started knitting together all the information needed for self-replication since they didn't like the idea of an outside design influence messing up their independence.

      1. onefang

        Re: DNA

        Ah but first they had to have a meeting to form the committee to create the bureaucrazy to have more meetings to create the conference, then many more meetings coming up with the logo, and much money advertising it, then postponing it at the last minute coz the new gubermit decided that atoms from the east side of the periodic table are no longer allowed to travel to the west side, so now we have to have meetings and planning to move the conference somewhere in the middle, with more advertising, before they could actually have that conference you mentioned.

        No wonder it took billions of years.

  5. Schultz

    Oh, the hyperbole

    Those polyaromatic hydrocarbons (Pyrenees, etc.) are the thermodynamically (energetically) favored species when you heat carbon rich mixtures. Think candle soot, Diesel engine, etc. This is like the house of cards in its collapsed state - really easy to make if you have cards and gravity. I assume there must be something else in the paper to make it interesting.

    And a molecule of life, it isn't. Those typically contain oxygen and nitrogen in addition to carbon an hydrogen and they are much more fragile. That's why dinosaurs readily turn into coal (=PAH), but coal rarely turns into a dinosaur.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Oh, the hyperbole

      That's why dinosaurs readily turn into coal

      Trees turn into coal, marine algae to oil, dinosaurs into fossils (non-combustible rock).

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Oh, the hyperbole

      but coal rarely turns into a dinosaur

      Oh I dunno - in the US, Big Coal is pretty much already a dinosaur. So much so that they helped elect one..

    3. David Roberts

      Re: Oh, the hyperbole

      Earliest forms of life on Earth had very little to do with oxygen, IIRC.

      Allegedly blue green algae used oxygen as a metabolic byproduct to kill off the competition which was, I think, mainly relying on Hydrogen Sulphide for energy.

      Then again that could have just been free oxygen.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Oh, the hyperbole

        "Earliest forms of life on Earth had very little to do with oxygen, IIRC."

        The organic compounds which living organisms are built of do contain oxygen. What the earliest forms didn't do was use molecular oxygen as part of their energy systems until, as you say, the blue-greens evolved photosynthesis which produced it as a by-product.

      2. abkp

        Re: Oh, the hyperbole

        Are you saying the blue-green algae had 'intention' !!!!

  6. iLurker

    Very old news

    Memory getting hazy now but the formation of organic compounds in the space environment was demonstrated to occur 40, 50 years ago - right up to the synthesis of basic proteins required for DNA.

    1. Chris G

      Re: Very old news

      I have been reading 'Building Blocks of Life' articles since I started reading New Scientist in the school library in the 60's.

      Most of the articles and papers are very similar and the conclusions haven't really changed much, perhaps there should be a requirement for researchers to research the research they're planning so that the research isn't just re-research, it's new research.

      It could save them time and maybe lead to somewhat more original research.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Very old news

      "basic proteins required for DNA"

      DNA is built from nucleotides, not proteins.

  7. Faux Science Slayer

    "Fossil Fuel is Nuclear Waste" at CanadaFreePress....

    Hydrocarbons are a natural byproduct of fission. Peak oil is an elitist deception, see....

    "Why Big Oil Conquered the World" a two hour documentary at

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. abkp

    For life to be formed from chemicals you need cells to form. Cells need their folding amino-acid chains and other contents to be assembled simultaneously with the membrane that holds them together - or they won't form. And life is based on information. Bill Gates says DNA is "like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created'. Information has never been known to create itself spontaneously. Therefore life creating itself without some design input is an unrealistic assumption. QED

  9. Sirius Lee

    <authors> ... "have recreated pyrene, a hydrocarbon commonly formed during the combustion processes in car engines, in a lab"

    Miracle of miracles. Researchers have created in a lab a molecule that is commonly created by cars. Whoa!

    Come on, the story as written is full of logical holes. How about:

    "A pressurised mixture of 4-phenanthrenyl - a hydrocarbon with one unpaired electron - another hydrocarbon compound acetylene were injected into a microreactor from a nozzle at supersonic speeds."

    According to the title the article is about creating molecules in space where there is no pressure and where there are no reactors.

    I am sure these apparent inconsistencies are because details about the research have been have been omitted and maybe it just shows it is possible to edit articles a little too far.

    1. hayzoos

      Have an upvote, exactly what I was thinking. The last paragraph has me wondering if Ahmed is an actual scientist or just a grant chaser:

      "The next step is to find out if these life-bearing molecules can be formed from ionising a mixture of hydrocarbon gases. "Is this enough of a trigger? There has to be some self-organization and self-assembly involved to create life forms. The big question is whether this is something that, inherently, the laws of physics do allow," Ahmed concluded. "

      Well, certainly not a physicist. Hardly deserves the boffin title either.

    2. Roj Blake Silver badge

      The microreactor was probably initially a vacuum. You would then pressurise the reagents before injecting them to ensure they've got a nice bit of kinetic energy when they enter the chamber.

  10. JeffyPoooh

    Some common sense tidbits about those Panspermia ideas

    Ratio of 'Age of Universe' to 'Age of the Earth' = about 3.

    Not a million-billion. Just '3'.


    The numerical equivalent of a penny. Hardly worth walking over to pick it up off the floor.

    Chemistry 101 Rule of Thumb: Chemistry slows down by about half for each 10°C drop. Space is generally cold. Cold might be an advantage for certain delicate molecules, but most often it just slows things down.

    Warm puddles are generally faster. Much faster than frozen asteroids.

    So, those proposing any of these sorts of Panspermia ideas need to clearly explain why cold space is significantly more conducive to making these life precursors than all the endless variety of environments found on the nascent Earth. Next multiply the (dis)advantage of cold space by the likelihood of the necessary proto goo then traveling through space and reaching the Earth. Finally consider the total quantity landed on the sterile Earth, and the resultant odds of it being put to use. The net final answer is that this Panspermia idea is either more, or less, likely than the canonical 'warm puddle' on a nascent Earth.

    Until they address the above point, it's all just useless noise.

    The answer appears clear, but maybe there's some subtle advantage to ultracold chemistry that needs to be explained. I remain open minded, but highly skeptical.

  11. Grikath

    "The big question is whether this is something that, inherently, the laws of physics do allow"

    Ummm last time I checked the laws of physics don't give a hoot about personal opinion, they just are.

    Which means that they do allow for "life". Thankfully so, given that our whole body chemistry is dependent on those reactions to survive and ultimately make more "life".

  12. onefang

    "Is this enough of a trigger? There has to be some self-organization and self-assembly involved to create life forms. The big question is whether this is something that, inherently, the laws of physics do allow," Ahmed concluded.

    Somehow I doubt Ahmed concluded with a comma, there might have been more at the end of that sentence.

    Also, I suspect that the laws of physics do indeed allow life, there seems to be plenty of examples around here. Look, found some on my keyboard -->

  13. onefang

    To all those above worried about vacuums and the cold of space, I note this from the article -

    "conditions to those found around a star"

    Not that cold around a star, probably not that hard a vacuum either. Probably depends on your definition of "around", "star", "cold", and "vacuum" though. YMMV

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