Nucleobase and amino acid formation through impacts of meteorites on the early ocean

Yoshihiro Furukawa, Hiromoto Nakazawa, Toshimori Sekine, Takamichi Kobayashi, Takeshi Kakegawa

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 16 August 2015


The emergence of life’s building blocks on the prebiotic Earth was the first crucial step for the origins of life. Extraterrestrial delivery of intact amino acids and nucleobases is the prevailing hypothesis for their availability on prebiotic Earth because of the difficulties associated with the production of these organics from terrestrial carbon and nitrogen sources under plausible prebiotic conditions. However, the variety and amounts of these intact organics delivered by meteorites would have been limited. Previous shock–recovery experiments have demonstrated that meteorite impact reactions could have generated organics on the prebiotic Earth. Here, we report on the simultaneous formation of nucleobases (cytosine and uracil) found in DNA and/or RNA, various proteinogenic amino acids (glycine, alanine, serine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, valine, leucine, isoleucine, and proline), non-proteinogenic amino acids, and aliphatic amines in experiments simulating reactions induced by extraterrestrial objects impacting on the early oceans. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of the formation of nucleobases from inorganic materials by shock conditions. In these experiments, bicarbonate was used as the carbon source. Bicarbonate, which is a common dissolved carbon species in CO2-rich atmospheric conditions, was presumably the most abundant carbon species in the early oceans and in post-impact plumes. Thus, the present results expand the possibility that impact-induced reactions generated various building blocks for life on prebiotic Earth in large quantities through the use of terrestrial carbon reservoirs.