Cometary Glycolaldehyde As A Source Of Pre-RNA Molecules

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
July 8, 2020
Filed under
Cometary Glycolaldehyde As A Source Of Pre-RNA Molecules

Over 200 molecules have been detected in multiple extraterrestrial environments, including glycolaldehyde (C2(H2O)2, GLA), a two-carbon sugar precursor that has been detected in regions of the interstellar medium.

Its recent in situ detection on the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and via remote observations in the comae of others, provides tantalizing evidence that it is common on most (if not all) comets. Impact experiments conducted at the Experimental Impact Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center have shown that samples of GLA and GLA mixed with montmorillonite clays can survive impact delivery in the pressure range of 4.5 GPa to 25 GPa.

Extrapolated to amounts of GLA observed on individual comets and assuming a monotonic impact rate in the first billion years of solar system history, these experimental results show that up to 10^23 kg of cometary GLA could have survived impact delivery, with substantial amounts of threose, erythrose, glycolic acid, and ethylene glycol also produced or delivered. Importantly, independent of the profile of the impact flux in the early solar system, comet delivery of GLA would have provided (and may continue to provide) a reservoir of starting material for the formose reaction (to form ribose) and the Strecker reaction (to form amino acids). Thus, comets may have been important delivery vehicles for starting molecules necessary for life as we know it.

Nicolle E. B. Zellner, Vanessa P. McCaffrey, Jayden H. E. Butler
Comments: Accepted manuscript, to appear in the journal Astrobiology
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as: arXiv:2007.02998 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2007.02998v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Nicolle Zellner
[v1] Mon, 6 Jul 2020 18:39:47 UTC (346 KB)
Astrobiology, Astrochemistry

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