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Parker, ET, Cleaves JH, Burton AS, Glavin DP, Dworkin JP, Zhou MS, Bada JL, Fernandez FM.  2014.  Conducting Miller-Urey experiments. Jove-Journal of Visualized Experiments.   10.3791/51039   AbstractWebsite

In 1953, Stanley Miller reported the production of biomolecules from simple gaseous starting materials, using an apparatus constructed to simulate the primordial Earth's atmosphere-ocean system. Miller introduced 200 ml of water, 100 mmHg of H-2, 200 mmHg of CH4, and 200 mmHg of NH3 into the apparatus, then subjected this mixture, under reflux, to an electric discharge for a week, while the water was simultaneously heated. The purpose of this manuscript is to provide the reader with a general experimental protocol that can be used to conduct a Miller-Urey type spark discharge experiment, using a simplified 3 L reaction flask. Since the experiment involves exposing inflammable gases to a high voltage electric discharge, it is worth highlighting important steps that reduce the risk of explosion. The general procedures described in this work can be extrapolated to design and conduct a wide variety of electric discharge experiments simulating primitive planetary environments.

Parker, ET, Cleaves HJ, Bada JL, Fernandez FM.  2016.  Quantitation of alpha-hydroxy acids in complex prebiotic mixtures via liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 30:2043-2051.   10.1002/rcm.7684   AbstractWebsite

RationaleSpark discharge experiments, like those performed by Stanley Miller in the 1950s, generate complex, analytically challenging mixtures that contain biopolymer building blocks. Recently, -amino acids and -hydroxy acids (AHAs) were subjected to environmental cycling to form simple depsipeptides (peptides with both amide and ester linkages). The synthesis of AHAs under possible primordial environments must be examined to better understand this chemistry. MethodsWe report a direct, quantitative method for AHAs using ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography and triple quadrupole mass spectrometry. Hexylamine ion-pairing chromatography and selected reaction monitoring detection were combined for the rapid analysis of ten AHAs in a single run. Additionally, prebiotic simulation experiments, including the first-ever reproduction of Miller's 1958 cyanamide spark discharge experiment, were performed to evaluate AHA synthesis over a wide range of possible primitive terrestrial environments. ResultsThe quantitating transition for each of the AHAs targeted in this study produced a limit of detection in the nanomolar concentration range. For most species, a linear response over a range spanning two orders of magnitude was found. The AHAs glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, and -hydroxyglutaric acid were detected in electric discharge experiments in the low micromolar concentration range. ConclusionsThe results of this work suggest that the most abundant building blocks available for prebiotic depsipeptide synthesis would have been glycolic, lactic, malic, and -hydroxyglutaric acids, and their corresponding amino acids, glycine, alanine, and aspartic and glutamic acids. Copyright (c) 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.