Publications

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2008
Cleaves, HJ, Chalmers JH, Lazcano A, Miller SL, Bada JL.  2008.  A reassessment of prebiotic organic synthesis in neutral planetary atmospheres. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres. 38:105-115.   10.1007/s11084-007-9120-3   AbstractWebsite

The action of an electric discharge on reduced gas mixtures such as H(2)O, CH(4) and NH(3) (or N(2)) results in the production of several biologically important organic compounds including amino acids. However, it is now generally held that the early Earth's atmosphere was likely not reducing, but was dominated by N(2) and CO(2). The synthesis of organic compounds by the action of electric discharges on neutral gas mixtures has been shown to be much less efficient. We show here that contrary to previous reports, significant amounts of amino acids are produced from neutral gas mixtures. The low yields previously reported appear to be the outcome of oxidation of the organic compounds during hydrolytic workup by nitrite and nitrate produced in the reactions. The yield of amino acids is greatly increased when oxidation inhibitors, such as ferrous iron, are added prior to hydrolysis. Organic synthesis from neutral atmospheres may have depended on the oceanic availability of oxidation inhibitors as well as on the nature of the primitive atmosphere itself. The results reported here suggest that endogenous synthesis from neutral atmospheres may be more important than previously thought.

2006
Skelley, AM, Cleaves HJ, Jayarajah CN, Bada JL, Mathies RA.  2006.  Application of the mars organic analyzer to nucleobase and amine biomarker detection. Astrobiology. 6:824-837.   10.1089/ast.2006.6.824   AbstractWebsite

The Mars Organic Analyzer (MOA), a portable microfabricated capillary electrophoresis instrument being developed for planetary exploration, is used to analyze a wide variety of fluorescamine-labeled amine-containing biomarker compounds, including amino acids, mono-and diaminoalkanes, amino sugars, nucleobases, and nucleobase degradation products. The nucleobases cytosine and adenine, which contain an exocyclic primary amine, were effectively labeled, separated, and detected at concentrations < 500 nM. To test the general applicability of the MOA for biomarker detection, amino acids and mono- and diamines were extracted from bacterial cells using both hydrolysis and sublimation followed by analysis. The extrapolated limit of detection provided by the valine biomarker was similar to 4 x 10(3) cells per sample. Products of an NH4CN polymerization that simulate a prebiotic synthesis were also successfully isolated via sublimation and analyzed. Adenine and alanine/serine were detected with no additional sample cleanup at 120 +/- 13 mu M and 4.1 +/- mu M, respectively, corresponding to a reaction yield of 0.04% and 0.0003%, respectively. This study demonstrates that the MOA provides sensitive detection and analysis of low levels of a wide variety of amine-containing organic compounds from both biological and abiotic sources.