Identifying the wide diversity of extraterrestrial purine and pyrimidine nucleobases in carbonaceous meteorites
The lack of pyrimidine diversity in meteorites remains a mystery since prebiotic chemical models and laboratory experiments have predicted that these compounds can also be produced from chemical precursors found in meteorites. Here we report the detection of nucleobases in three carbonaceous meteorites using state-of-the-art analytical techniques optimized for small-scale quantification of nucleobases down to the range of parts per trillion (ppt). In addition to previously detected purine nucleobases in meteorites such as guanine and adenine, we identify various pyrimidine nucleobases such as cytosine, uracil, and thymine, and their structural isomers such as isocytosine, imidazole-4-carboxylic acid, and 6-methyluracil, respectively. Given the similarity in the molecular distribution of pyrimidines in meteorites and those in photon-processed interstellar ice analogues, some of these derivatives could have been generated by photochemical reactions prevailing in the interstellar medium and later incorporated into asteroids during solar system formation. This study demonstrates that a diversity of meteoritic nucleobases could serve as building blocks of DNA and RNA on the early Earth.