Re-examination of amino acids in Antarctic micrometeorites

Glavin, DP, Matrajt G, Bada JL.  2004.  Re-examination of amino acids in Antarctic micrometeorites. Space Life Sciences: Steps toward Origin(S) of Life. 33( Bernstein MP, Kress M, NavarroGonzalez R, Eds.).:106-113., Kidlington: Pergamon-Elsevier Science Ltd


accretion rate, amino acids, atmospheric entry, carbonaceous chondrites, collection, cosmic dust, extraterrestrial delivery, hydrolysis, meteorite, micrometeorites, murchison, parent body, prebiotic organic inventory


The delivery of amino acids by micrometeorites to the early Earth during the period of heavy bombardment (4.5-3.5 Ga) could have been a significant source of the Earth's prebiotic organic inventory. Antarctic micrometeorites (AMMs) in the 100-200 mum size range represent the dominant mass fraction of extraterrestrial material accreted by the Earth today. However, one problem is that these 'large' micrometeorite grains can be heated to very high temperatures (1000 to 1500 degreesC) during atmospheric deceleration, causing the amino acids to decompose. In this study, we have analyzed the acid-hydrolyzed, hot water extracts from 455 AMMs for the presence of amino acids using high performance liquid chromatography. For comparison, a 5 mg sample of the CM meteorite Murchison was also investigated. In the Murchison sample we found high levels (similar to3-4 parts-per-million, ppm) of alpha-aminoisobutyric acid (AIB) and isovaline, two non-protein amino acids that are extremely rare on Earth and are characteristic of amino acids of apparent extraterrestrial origin. In contrast, we were unable to detect any AIB above the 0.1 ppm level in the AMM samples studied. Only in one AMM sample from a previous study has AIB been detected (similar to300 ppm). To date, more than 600 AMMs have been analyzed for extraterrestrial amino acids. Although our results indicate that less than 5% of all AMMs contain detectable levels of AIB, we cannot rule out the possibility that AIB can be delivered to the Earth intact by a small percentage of AMMs that escaped extensive heating during atmospheric entry. (C) 2003 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.