Cyanide in meteorites may have played a role in the origin of life on Earth

Meteorites can be very useful for understanding, among other things, the origin of life on Earth and their importance in this sense is increasing more and more in recent years as they are increasingly seen as the main vectors of the compounds that have kicked off those processes that then brought to life on our planet.

New research, published in Nature Communications and conducted by scientists at Boise State University and NASA, deals with the discovery of several compounds containing cyanide, iron and carbon monoxide in pieces of meteorites fallen to Earth. These compounds, according to researchers, existed on Earth even before the origin of life and may have played a role in this regard.

The idea that the main compounds that originated life have been transported to Earth as a result of asteroid and meteor impacts is not new but in this case we speak of cyanide, a compound considered to be lethal to humans. In fact, according to Karen Smith, one of the researchers working on the study, it may have been one of the essential components of those molecules that gave rise to life on earth. In fact, cyanide may have been involved in the non-biological synthesis of organic compounds, primarily amino acids and nucleobases, which in turn gave rise to life.

The cyano-carbonyl iron complexes also appear to closely resemble those present in the active sites of hydrogenase, enzymes at the base of the energy acquisition of the bacteria through the hydrogen decomposition process. The same researchers also found that the meteorites containing cyanide are part of a group of meteorites called CM chondrites.

Further information will be obtained when the OSIRIS-REx probe will bring the samples taken from the asteroid Bennu to Earth around 2023. At that point we can better understand the levels of cyanide and possibly also its role in the origin of life, as specified by Jason Dworkin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to Greenbelt, another research author.