February 16, 2012
The Quest For Sugars Involved In Origin Of Life
Sugars give rise to enormous biochemical interest given the importance and diversity of the functions they carry out: they act as an energy storage system and serve as fuel for a number of biological systems; they form part of DNA and of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and, moreover, play a key role in cell processes. Recently interest in sugars has also been increasingly attracting the attention of cosmochemistry, more concretely, in the search for the fundamental matter of the origin of life in interstellar space. Finding this would also help in the understanding of what the mechanism of the origin of life on Earth was. The most elemental of sugars, made up of 2 and 3 units of carbon, have already been found in interstellar molecular clouds and meteorites. Nevertheless, it has not been possible to date to detect more complex sugars in space, given the absence of precise information about their structure. This information is what the research laboratories have to provide.
There are numerous research teams to be first in the race to detect this sugar in gas phase, using high-resolution techniques. Problems have arisen in trying to vaporize it due to the thermal instabilities caused by loss of water. “Only if you avoid the processes of decomposition on dehydration and manage to isolate the sugar, thus obviating the changes produced by neighboring molecules, will you be in a position to characterize its structure”, explained Mr Emilio JosÃ© Cocinero, researcher at the Department of Physical Chemistry of the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU). His latest research has become amongst the first worldwide to have managed to observe a sugar — a ribose — in the gas phase and to characterize a number of its structures. His article, “Ribose Found in the Gas Phase”, published by the Angewandte Chemie International Edition, was announced on the front cover of the April issue of the scientific journal and also highlighted in the on-line version. This publication has an impact factor of 12.730, making it the most important in the field of Chemistry.
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