Prebiotic ethanolamine found in space

Prebiotic ethanolamine found in space

The formation of cellular membranes represents a significant step in the evolution of life on Earth, given that membranes composed of phospholipids help keep cellular genetic material and metabolic machinery together. The origin of the cellular membrane, however, is unclear.

The researchers detected the presence of ethanolamine, a component of the head of phospholipids, in a molecular cloud near the center of our galaxy using the IRAM and Yebes radiotelescopes.

Ethanolamine, which forms the hydrophilic head of phospholipids, had been previously detected in meteorites, but the abundance of the molecule in space relative to water reveals that the molecule likely formed in space and was later incorporated into meteorites.

The authors suggest that ethanolamine may also have been incorporated into planetesimals and other minor bodies of the Solar System, including precursors to Earth.

Experiments simulating the chemical conditions of early Earth confirmed that ethanolamine could have formed phospholipids under such conditions.

According to the authors, the availability of ethanolamine on early Earth, together with amphiphilic fatty acids or alcohols, may have contributed to the assembly and early evolution of primitive cell membranes.