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Prebiologically Important Interstellar Molecules

  • Y.-J. Kuan (a1) (a2), H.-C. Huang (a1), S. B. Charnley (a3), W.-L. Tseng (a1), L. E. Snyder (a4), P. Ehrenfreund (a5), Z. Kisiel (a6), S. Thorwirth (a7), R. K. Bohn (a8) and T. L. Wilson (a9)...

Abstract

Understanding the organic chemistry of molecular clouds, particularly the formation of biologically important molecules, is fundamental to the study of the processes which lead to the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the Galaxy. Determining the level of molecular complexity attainable in the clouds, and the nature of the complex organic material available to protostellar disks and the planetary systems that form from them, requires an understanding of the possible chemical pathways and is therefore a central question in astrochemistry. We have thus searched for prebiologically important molecules in the hot molecular cloud cores: Sgr B2(N-LMH), W51 e1/e2 and Orion-KL. Among the molecules searched: Pyrimidine is the unsubstituted ring analogue for three of the DNA and RNA bases. 2H-Azirine and Aziridine are azaheterocyclic compounds. And Glycine is the simplest amino acid. Detections of these interstellar organic molecular species will thus have important implications for Astrobiology. Our preliminary results indicate a tentative detection of interstellar glycine. If confirmed, this will be the first detection of an amino acid in interstellar space and will greatly strengthen the thesis that interstellar organic molecules could have played a pivotal role in the prebiotic chemistry of the early Earth.

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References

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Bernstein, M. P., Dworkin, J. P., Sandford, S. A., Cooper, G. W., & Allamandola, L. J. 2002, Nature, 416, 401
Charnley, S. B. 1997, in Astronomical and Biochemical Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe, ed. Cosmovici, C. B., Bowyer, S. & Werthimer, D., (Bologna: Editrice Compositori), 89
Charnley, S. B., Ehrenfreund, P., & Kuan, Y.-J. 2001, Spectrochimica Acta, Part A, 57, 685
Charnley, S. B., & Rodgers, S. D. 2002, submitted to MNRAS

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