A search for extraterrestrial amino acids in carbonaceous Antarctic micrometeorites

Brinton, KLF, Engrand C, Glavin DP, Bada JL, Maurette M.  1998.  A search for extraterrestrial amino acids in carbonaceous Antarctic micrometeorites. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres. 28:413-424.

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chondrites, collection, cosmic dust, delivery, hcn, ice, murchison meteorite, samples


Antarctic micrometeorites (AMMs) in the 100-400 mu m size range are the dominant mass fraction of extraterrestrial material accreted by the Earth today. A high performance Liquid chromatography (HPLC) based technique exploited at the limits of sensitivity has been used to search for the extraterrestrial amino acids alpha-aminoisobutyric acid (AIB) and isovaline in AMMs. Five samples, each containing about 30 to 35 grains, were analyzed. All the samples possess a terrestrial amino acid component, indicated by the excess of the L-enantiomers of common protein amino acids. In only one sample (A91) was AIB found to be present at a level significantly above the background blanks. The concentration of AIB (similar to 280 ppm), and the AIB/isovaline ratio (greater than or equal to 10), in this sample are both much higher than in CM chondrites. The apparently large variation in the AIB concentrations of the samples suggests that AIB may be concentrated in rare subset of micrometeorites. Because the AIB/isovaline ratio in sample A91 is much larger than in CM chondrites, the synthesis of amino acids in the micrometeorite parent bodies might have involved a different process requiring an HCN-rich environment, such as that found in comets. If the present day characteristics of the meteorite acid micrometeorite fluxes can be extrapolated back in time, then the flux of large carbonaceous micrometeorites could have contributed to the inventory of prebiotic molecules on the early Earth.