A paper published in Nature by Cambridge researchers Sunday describes a process that might have lead to the first RNA molecules on pre-life Earth.

Essentially, a 2009 study found that cytosine, one of the four bases for RNA and DNA, could be formed with the help of four molecules: cyanamide, cyanoacetylene, glycolaldehyde, and glyceraldehyde. All of them are derived from cyanide but were still relatively complex for the origins of life, particularly the latter two. 

In this paper, the researchers found that they could use hydrogen cyanide (a relatively common molecule in space), some copper ions, and ultraviolet rays to produce glycoaldehyde and glyceraldehyde. Combined with the findings of the 2009 paper, they should be able to produce cytosine from the pre-life components likely to have been on Earth.

Possibly even more exciting, they indicated that by using different metal ions it might be possible to produce even more biological components. Can’t wait to see what they might find a few years down the road!