Scientists have confirmed that Vitamin B3, or Niacin, can actually be produced in space. Niacin is one of the essential nutrients for life and researchers have successfully extracted the vitamin from sample meteorites.
The discovery confirms that some space rocks may actually function as a sort of "molecular factory" that can produce some of the vital ingredients for life. The new findings also support existing theories that some of ingredients for the creation of life were created off planet and arrived here by way of meteorites.
"It is always difficult to put a value on the connection between meteorites and the origin of life; for example, earlier work has shown that vitamin B3 could have been produced non-biologically on ancient Earth, but it's possible that an added source of vitamin B3 could have been helpful," said Pennsylvania State University researcher Karen Smith. "Vitamin B3, also called nicotinic acid or niacin, is a precursor to NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is essential to metabolism and likely very ancient in origin."
While the discovery may provide important revelations regarding the possibility of finding life elsewhere in the universe, this isn't actually the first time that Niacin has been found in meteorites. A meteorite that was found in Tagish Lake in Canada also yielded traces of the vitamin. In 2001, researchers from the Arizona State University were also able to extract vitamin B3 along with other important molecules from the Tagish Lake meteorite,
Smith, the lead author of the NASA-funded study, studied and analyzed samples obtained from a total of eight different meteorites. All of the meteorites involved were rich in carbon, one of the essential ingredients for the production of Niacin. The team found traces of Vitamin B3 that ranged from 30 parts-per-billion (ppb) to 600 ppb. Smith and the other researchers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center published their findings in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.
"We discovered a pattern - less vitamin B3 (and other pyridine carboxylic acids) was found in meteorites that came from asteroids that were more altered by liquid water. One possibility may be that these molecules were destroyed during the prolonged contact with liquid water," said Smith. "We also performed preliminary laboratory experiments simulating conditions in interstellar space and showed that the synthesis of vitamin B3 and other pyridine carboxylic acids might be possible on ice grains."
Smith and her colleagues are now planning to conduct another series of experiments to gain a deeper understanding on how vitamin B3 can naturally form in space.