Survival of amino acids in micrometeorites during atmospheric entry

Astrobiology. Fall 2001;1(3):259-69. doi: 10.1089/15311070152757456.


The delivery of amino acids by micrometeorites to the early Earth during the period of heavy bombardment could have been a significant source of the Earth's prebiotic amino acid inventory provided that these organic compounds survived atmospheric entry heating. To investigate the sublimation of amino acids from a micrometeorite analog at elevated temperature, grains from the CM-type carbonaceous chondrite Murchison were heated to 550 degrees C inside a glass sublimation apparatus (SA) under reduced pressure. The sublimed residue that had collected on the cold finger of the SA after heating was analyzed for amino acids by HPLC. We found that when the temperature of the meteorite reached approximately 150 degrees C, a large fraction of the amino acid glycine had vaporized from the meteorite, recondensed onto the end of the SA cold finger, and survived as the rest of the grains heated to 550 degrees C. alpha-Aminoisobutryic acid and isovaline, which are two of the most abundant non-protein amino acids in Murchison, did not sublime from the meteorite and were completely destroyed during the heating experiment. Our experimental results suggest that sublimation of glycine present in micrometeorite grains may provide a way for this amino acid to survive atmospheric entry heating at temperatures > 550 degrees C; all other amino acids apparently are destroyed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids* / analysis
  • Amino Acids* / chemistry
  • Atmosphere
  • Atmospheric Pressure
  • Carbon
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry, Physical
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Glycine / analysis
  • Glycine / chemistry
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Lasers
  • Meteoroids*
  • Volatilization


  • Amino Acids
  • Carbon
  • Glycine