In a major finding which may help support the panspermia hypothesis (the idea that life was seeded on Earth by comets or meteors), sugar has been detected on a meteorite sample for the first time.
Sugar is necessary for the production of DNA and is a common component to all life. Previously, components such as amino acids and nucleobases had been found but the missing component has always been sugar.
To test for sugar, a team from Tohoku University in Japan analyzed two meteorite samples, one from Australia and the other from Africa, using gas chromatography mass spectrometry, which allowed them to check for molecules of certain types by sorting the molecules according to mass and electric charge.
According to the lead author of the study:
The research provides the first direct evidence of ribose in space and the delivery of the sugar to Earth. The extraterrestrial sugar might have contributed to the formation of RNA on the prebiotic Earth which possibly led to the origin of life.Yoshihiro Furukawa of Tohoku University
Because of the extreme environments in space, comets and meteors are full of complex molecules and may have been instrumental in seeding an early Earth with them, allowing for the origin of RNA, which is the precursor to DNA. Scientists are fairly certain that RNA developed first and that DNA was an adaptation that developed over the top of RNA.
Although it is a huge find, the actual sugar used in the formation of DNA was not found. The sugars that were found were arabinose and xylose. The sugar used in DNA synthesis is 2-deoxyribose.
However, this does demonstrate the possibility of finding more sugars in other meteorite samples.