Seeding the Pregenetic Earth: Meteoritic Abundances of Nucleobases and Potential Reaction Pathways

Ben K. D. Pearce, Ralph E. Pudritz

accepted for publication in ApJ

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Carbonaceous chondrites are a class of meteorite known for having a high content of water and organics. In this study, abundances of the nucleobases, i.e., the building blocks of RNA and DNA, found in carbonaceous chondrites are collated from a variety of published data and compared across various meteorite classes. An extensive review of abiotic chemical reactions producing nucleobases is then performed. These reactions are then reduced to a list of 15 individual reaction pathways that could potentially occur within meteorite parent bodies. The nucleobases guanine, adenine and uracil are found in carbonaceous chondrites in the amounts of 1$-$500 ppb. It is currently unknown which reaction is responsible for their synthesis within the meteorite parent bodies. One class of carbonaceous meteorites dominate the abundances of both amino acids and nucleobases$-$the so-called CM2 (e.g. Murchison meteorite). CR2 meteorites (e.g. Graves Nunataks) also dominate the abundances of amino acids, but are the least abundant in nucleobases. The abundances of total nucleobases in these two classes are $330 \pm250$ ppb and $16 \pm13$ ppb respectively. Guanine most often has the greatest abundances in carbonaceous chondrites with respect to the other nucleobases, but is 1$-$2 orders of magnitude less abundant in CM2 meteorites than glycine (the most abundant amino acid). Our survey of the reaction mechanisms for nucleobase formation suggests that Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (i.e. CO, H$_2$ and NH$_3$ gases reacting in the presence of a catalyst such as alumina or silica) is the most likely for conditions that characterize early states of planetesimals.