The Role of Ultrahigh Resolution Fourier Transform Mass Spectrometry (FT-MS) in Astrobiology-Related Research: Analysis of Meteorites and Tholins

Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Mar 24;17(4):439. doi: 10.3390/ijms17040439.


It is an important but also a challenging analytical problem to understand the chemical composition and structure of prebiotic organic matter that is present in extraterrestrial materials. Its formation, evolution and content in the building blocks ("seeds") for more complex molecules, such as proteins and DNA, are key questions in the field of exobiology. Ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry is one of the best analytical techniques that can be applied because it provides reliable information on the chemical composition and structure of individual components of complex organic mixtures. Prebiotic organic material is delivered to Earth by meteorites or generated in laboratories in simulation (model) experiments that mimic space or atmospheric conditions. Recent representative examples for ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry studies using Fourier-transform (FT) mass spectrometers such as Orbitrap and ion cyclotron resonance (ICR) mass spectrometers are shown and discussed in the present article, including: (i) the analysis of organic matter of meteorites; (ii) modeling atmospheric processes in ICR cells; and (iii) the structural analysis of laboratory made tholins that might be present in the atmosphere and surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

Keywords: Fourier transform (FT); Orbitrap; chemical compositions; ion cyclotron resonance (ICR); isomeric structures; origin of life; prebiotic material; ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Fourier Analysis
  • Mass Spectrometry*
  • Meteoroids*
  • Models, Theoretical