A non-energetic mechanism for glycine formation in the interstellar medium

S. Ioppolo, G. Fedoseev, K.-J. Chuang, H. M. Cuppen, A. R. Clements, M. Jin, R. T. Garrod, D. Qasim, V. Kofman, E. F. van Dishoeck & H. Linnartz

Nature Astronomy (2020), Published: 16 November 2020


“The detection of the amino acid glycine and its amine precursor methylamine on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the Rosetta mission provides strong evidence for a cosmic origin of amino acids on Earth. How and when such molecules form along the process of star formation remains debated. Here we report the laboratory detection of glycine formed in the solid phase through atom and radical–radical addition surface reactions under dark interstellar cloud conditions. Our experiments, supported by astrochemical models, suggest that glycine forms without the need for ‘energetic’ irradiation (such as ultraviolet photons and cosmic rays) in interstellar water-rich ices, where it remains preserved, during a much earlier star-formation stage than previously assumed. We also confirm that solid methylamine is an important side-reaction product. A prestellar formation of glycine on ice grains provides the basis for a complex and ubiquitous prebiotic chemistry in space enriching the chemical content of planet-forming material.”