Meteorite-catalyzed syntheses of nucleosides and of other prebiotic compounds from formamide under proton irradiation
Liquid formamide has been irradiated by high-energy proton beams in the presence of powdered meteorites, and the products of the catalyzed resulting syntheses were analyzed by mass spectrometry. Relative to the controls (no radiation, or no formamide, or no catalyst), an extremely rich, variegate, and prebiotically relevant panel of compounds was observed. The meteorites tested were representative of the four major classes: iron, stony iron, chondrites, and achondrites. The products obtained were amino acids, carboxylic acids, nucleobases, sugars, and, most notably, four nucleosides: cytidine, uridine, adenosine, and thymidine. In accordance with theoretical studies, the detection of HCN oligomers suggests the occurrence of mechanisms based on the generation of radical cyanide species (CN.) for the synthesis of nucleobases. Given that many of the compounds obtained are key components of extant organisms, these observations contribute to outline plausible exogenous high-energy-based prebiotic scenarios and their possible boundary conditions, as discussed.