Abundant extraterrestrial purine nucleobases in the Murchison meteorite: Implications for a unified mechanism for purine synthesis in carbonaceous chondrite parent bodies

Toshiki Koga, Yoshinori Takano, Yasuhiro Oba, Hiroshi Naraoka, Naohiko Ohkouchi

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
In Press, Journal Pre-proof, Available online 18 October 2023


“Extraterrestrial nucleobases are of key interest owing to their implications for the chemical evolution of primordial molecules in the solar system and their potential contributions to prebiotic chemistry on the early Earth. Recent advances in analytical techniques capable of detecting femto-mole-order nucleobases have allowed us to identify all five exogenous nucleobases—uracil, cytosine, thymine, adenine, and guanine—in carbonaceous chondrites and to quantify uracil obtained from the carbonaceous asteroid (162173) Ryugu. In this study, we optimized the analytical method using hot-water extraction followed by 6 M hydrochloric acid (HCl) extraction from a sample of the CM2 Murchison meteorite to reassess the abundances and distributions of extraterrestrial nucleobases. The target analyses performed using high-performance liquid chromatography paired with electrospray-ionization, high-resolution mass spectrometry revealed that purine nucleobases were substantially more enriched in the subsequent 6 M HCl extract (951 ± 104 parts per billion, ppb) than in the hot-water extract (199 ± 3 ppb). The most abundant nucleobase was guanine (649 ± 103 ppb in total). The 6 M HCl extract not only contained canonical nucleobases but also included rare nucleobase analogs from the purine family, such as 8-substituted purines. Unlike purines, we preferentially detected pyrimidine nucleobases in the hot-water extract and the acid hydrolysate (185 ± 17 ppb and 297 ± 5 ppb, respectively) rather than in the 6 M HCl extract (51 ± 4 ppb). The disparate distributions of purine and pyrimidine bases in the Murchison meteorite suggests that purines are more robustly incorporated than pyrimidines into meteoritic matrices and/or insoluble macromolecular organic matter. We propose a unified formation mechanism for purine nucleobases—which involves the synthesis of 5-aminoimidazole derivatives from hydrogen cyanide and its related molecules—that can account for the molecular distributions of the extraterrestrial purine nucleobases found in the Murchison meteorite.”