Enantiomer excesses of rare and common sugar derivatives in carbonaceous meteorites

George Cooper and Andro C. Rios

PNAS2016 ; published ahead of print May 31, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1603030113



The majority of biological sugars and their derivatives contain higher abundances of the “d” mirror-image forms relative to the “l” forms. For example, nucleic acids are composed of only d sugars. Carbonaceous meteorites can potentially assist in understanding the long-sought origin of such phenomena; They preserve a record of the earliest (∼4.5 Gy) chemical processes in the Solar System. To date, there have been no systematic studies of d/l (i.e., enantiomer) ratios of meteoritic sugar derivatives. In multiple meteorites, we demonstrate that rare and common sugar acids contain large excesses of the d enantiomer. Such data indicate that early meteoritic compounds may have influenced the enantiomer profile of subsequent biological sugars and their derivatives.


Biological polymers such as nucleic acids and proteins are constructed of only one—the d or l—of the two possible nonsuperimposable mirror images (enantiomers) of selected organic compounds. However, before the advent of life, it is generally assumed that chemical reactions produced 50:50 (racemic) mixtures of enantiomers, as evidenced by common abiotic laboratory syntheses. Carbonaceous meteorites contain clues to prebiotic chemistry because they preserve a record of some of the Solar System’s earliest (∼4.5 Gy) chemical and physical processes. In multiple carbonaceous meteorites, we show that both rare and common sugar monoacids (aldonic acids) contain significant excesses of the d enantiomer, whereas other (comparable) sugar acids and sugar alcohols are racemic. Although the proposed origins of such excesses are still tentative, the findings imply that meteoritic compounds and/or the processes that operated on meteoritic precursors may have played an ancient role in the enantiomer composition of life’s carbohydrate-related biopolymers.”