Biochemistry & Organic Chemistry

Formation of Amino Acids and Carboxylic Acids in Weakly Reducing Planetary Atmospheres by Solar Energetic Particles from the Young Sun

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
May 31, 2023
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Formation of Amino Acids and Carboxylic Acids in Weakly Reducing Planetary Atmospheres by Solar Energetic Particles from the Young Sun
GC chromatogram of carboxylic acids formed by spark discharge in the gas mixture of CO2, CH4, N2, and H2O (rCH4 = 0.25). The sample was analyzed without hydrolysis. C1: formic acid, C2: acetic acid, C3: propanoic acid, iC4: isobutyric acid, C4: butyric acid, iC5: isovaleric acid. — Life

Life most likely started during the Hadean Eon; however, the environmental conditions which contributed to the complexity of its chemistry are poorly known.

A better understanding of various environmental conditions, including global (heliospheric) and local (atmospheric, surface, and oceanic), along with the internal dynamic conditions of the early Earth, are required to understand the onset of abiogenesis. Herein, we examine the contributions of galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) and solar energetic particles (SEPs) associated with superflares from the young Sun to the formation of amino acids and carboxylic acids in weakly reduced gas mixtures representing the early Earth’s atmosphere. We also compare the products with those introduced by lightning events and solar ultraviolet light (UV).

In a series of laboratory experiments, we detected and characterized the formation of amino acids and carboxylic acids via proton irradiation of a mixture of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen, and water in various mixing ratios. These experiments show the detection of amino acids after acid hydrolysis when 0.5% (v/v) of initial methane was introduced to the gas mixture. In the set of experiments with spark discharges (simulation of lightning flashes) performed for the same gas mixture, we found that at least 15% methane was required to detect the formation of amino acids, and no amino acids were detected in experiments via UV irradiation, even when 50% methane was used. Carboxylic acids were formed in non-reducing gas mixtures (0% methane) by proton irradiation and spark discharges.

Hence, we suggest that GCRs and SEP events from the young Sun represent the most effective energy sources for the prebiotic formation of biologically important organic compounds from weakly reducing atmospheres. Since the energy flux of space weather, which generated frequent SEPs from the young Sun in the first 600 million years after the birth of the solar system, was expected to be much greater than that of GCRs, we conclude that SEP-driven energetic protons are the most promising energy sources for the prebiotic production of bioorganic compounds in the atmosphere of the Hadean Earth.

Kensei Kobayashi, Jun-ichi Ise, Ryohei Aoki, Miei Kinoshita, Koki Naito, Takumi Udo, Bhagawati Kunwar, Jun-ichi Takahashi, Hiromi Shibata, Hajime Mita, Hitoshi Fukuda, Yoshiyuki Oguri, Kimitaka Kawamura, Yoko Kebukawa and Vladimir S. Airapetian
Life 2023, 13(5), 1103; DOI: 10.3390/life13051103 (open access)
Astrobiology, Astrochemistry

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻