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Researchers Uncover How Key Ingredient for Cell Energy Production Could Form in Deep Space

In a groundbreaking study published in Science Advances on March 15, researchers may have unraveled the mystery of how glyceric acid, a crucial ingredient for cell metabolism and energy production, could originate in the depths of space.

The study, spearheaded by theoretical astrochemist Ryan Fortenberry from the University of Mississippi, focused on understanding the formation of glyceric acid in interstellar clouds. These clouds, such as the Orion Nebula, are rich in gases, plasma, and dust, providing the perfect environment for chemical reactions to occur under the influence of radiation.

Using computer simulations and laboratory experiments, the team investigated the reaction between two abundant compounds in interstellar clouds: carbon dioxide and ethylene glycol, commonly found in antifreeze. The results suggested that when subjected to radiation, these compounds could combine to form glyceric acid.

To validate their findings, physical chemist Ralf Ingo Kaiser and his team from the University of Hawaii at Manoa recreated interstellar conditions in a vacuum chamber. By bombarding ices of carbon dioxide and ethylene glycol with simulated cosmic radiation, they observed the formation of glyceric acid molecules.

While the process may not seem magical, Fortenberry described it as such due to the remarkable transformation of simple molecules into biologically significant species. This discovery opens new possibilities for understanding the origins of complex organic molecules crucial for life.

Anthony Remijan, an astrochemist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, hailed the study as a significant step in deciphering the formation of organic compounds in space. By shedding light on the synthesis of glyceric acid, researchers hope to uncover more insights into the evolution of simple chemistry into complex organic molecules essential for life.

Moving forward, the team plans to search for glyceric acid in interstellar clouds using advanced telescopes like the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile. This next phase could provide further evidence of the role of cosmic chemistry in shaping the building blocks of life in the universe.

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