"Namibie Hoba Meteorite" by Calips / CC BY-SA 3.0

Cyanide-Laced Meteorites May Have Seeded Earth’s First Life

Jun 28, 2019

By Stephanie Pappas

Cyanide isn’t just the last resort for the captured spies of Hollywood film. It’s also a crucial component of the early chemistry of life. And now, new research finds that cyanide might have ridden to Earth on meteorites.

Samples of a particular group of primitive meteorites — including a large one that fell near Murchison, Australia, in 1969 — all contain cyanide, bound in a stable configuration with iron and carbon monoxide. These same sorts of structures are found in enzymes called hydrogenases in modern bacteria and archaea, which could suggest that early life either borrowed from meteorites or that early Earth’s geology formed the same kind of cyanide compounds, said study co-author Michael Callahan, an analytical chemist Boise State University.

“When you study these primitive meteorites it’s like you’re hopping into a time machine and you can go back and study these ancient materials,” Callahan told Live Science. “And then you find these connections to life and ancient biology.”

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