Meteorite-catalyzed syntheses of nucleosides and of other prebiotic compounds from formamide under proton irradiation
Raffaele Saladino, Eleonora Carota, Giorgia Botta, Mikhail Kapralov, Gennady N. Timoshenko, Alexei Y. Rozanov, Eugene Krasavin, and Ernesto Di Mauro
PNAS 2015 ; published ahead of print April 13, 2015, doi:10.1073/pnas.1422225112
Modern research on the origin of life started with Urey–Miller’s 1953 report on the spontaneous formation of amino acids upon application of electric discharge on a model of the pristine Earth atmosphere. Formamide provides a chemically sound starting material for the syntheses of prebiotic compounds; its role in prebiotics is becoming recognized. Kiloparsecs-wide clouds of formamide were observed in the interstellar space. The energy sources for the syntheses explored so far were largely thermal, and the catalysts used were mostly terrestrial. In the presence of meteorites and with high-energy protons, we observe the production of unprecedented panels of nucleobases, sugars, and, most notably, nucleosides. Carboxylic acids and amino acids complete the recipe. These findings extend prebiotic plausible scenarios well beyond our planet.