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The study of the evolution of organic matter subjected to space conditions, and more specifically to Solar photons in the vacuum ultraviolet range (120–200 nm) has been undertaken in low-Earth orbit since the 1990s, and implemented on various space platforms. This paper describes a photochemistry experiment called AMINO, conducted during 22 months between 2009 and 2011 on the EXPOSE-R ESA facility, outside the International Space Station. Samples with relevance to astrobiology (connected to comets, carbonaceous meteorites and micrometeorites, the atmosphere of Titan and RNA world hypothesis) have been selected and exposed to space environment. They have been analysed after return to the Earth. This paper is not discussing the results of the experiment, but rather gives a general overview of the project, the details of the hardware used, its configuration and recent developments to enable long-duration exposure of gaseous samples in tight closed cells enabling for the first time to derive quantitative results from gaseous phase samples exposed in space.
For many years, our group has been investigating the VUV spectroscopy and photochemistry
of molecules of astrophysical (Jochims et al. 2006a,b; Leach et al. 2008; Schwell et al. 2012) and prebiotic interest (Schwell et al. 2006). Polyynes and cyano-polyynes that are abundant in
the interstellar medium (ISM) and in planetary atmospheres, have been investigated too
(e.g. Fray et al. 2010). An aerosol source for reactive and thermo-labile compounds has been
developed (Gaie-Levrel et al. 2011)
to perform gas-phase measurements. These are necessary to measure intrinsic molecular
properties and to compare to quantum chemical calculations. Besides measuring absolute
absorption and photoionization cross sections, dissociative channels and their involved
excited states are identified for a number of molecules of interstellar interest.
Branching ratios of the respective elementary photoreactions are determined in order to
understand and model the photochemistry occurring in the ISM. Some very recent results on
the dissociative photoionization of methylformate (MF), glycolaldehyde (GA), dimethylether
(DIM), aminoacetonitrile (AAC) and cyanoacetylene (CA), are presented here.
Tholins are polymeric hydrogenated carbon nitrides formed from N2:CH4 mixtures exposed to electrical discharges. They are complex disordered solids, and their structural chemistry and formation processes are not yet fully understood. Tholins have been widely adopted as useful analogs of reddish organic solids associated with planetary bodies or in interstellar space (e.g., Titan's aerosols, reddish surfaces of outer objects, interstellar organics, etc.) for fitting astronomical observations. However, there has been little evidence to date that they in fact constitute pertinent model materials, i. e. with chemical structure/composition similar to those presumed to be present in planetary or interstellar organic solids. In this contribution, we first review recent advances made regarding the determination of composition and structure of tholins produced in the laboratory. They point to a high chemical selectivity in the range of functional groups present, the control of unsaturation by nitrogen, and the highly disordered character of the structures. In a second section, we discuss the relationship between chemistry and the optical properties of tholins, and we point out the lack of a unique relationship between the shape and strength of the visible absorption bands and the chemical composition or structure of the model tholins. The tholins exhibit similarities with HCN “polymers”, that are suspected to be present in cometary refractory dust. This points to the existence of possible similar polymerisation processes, and it suggests they could also be used as analogs of N-rich cometary organics. Laboratory-based studies of cometary dust might offer new insights on the “chemical relevancy” of tholins, as combined micro-analytical techniques will allow direct comparison of chemical information between the materials produced. In a third section we present recent results pertaining to the search for such compounds in cometary grains (Stardust grains, interplanetary dust particles - IDPs). We show that some N-rich spots in stratospheric IDPs are rich in cyanide species, but no tholin-like compounds or polymeric HCN have been detected to date.
The changes in lipoprotein metabolism which follow the ingestion of a large fat load have been well described. The hypothesis was tested that similar changes in lipoprotein metabolism would occur after a relatively normal meal. Plasma and lipoprotein triacylglycerol, cholesterol and apolipoprotein concentrations were determined in twenty subjects (ten female) given a mixed meal containing approximately one-third of the daily intake of major nutrients in the typical Western diet. Fasting plasma triacylglycerol concentrations (range 0.38–2.70 mm/l) and the postprandial rise in plasma triacylglycerol varied considerably between subjects and were significantly associated (P < 0.01). The rise in plasma triacylglycerol corresponded to marked increases in the triacylglycerol concentration of the triacylglycerol-rich lipoproteins (TRL; chylomicrons and very-low-density lipoproteins). TRL cholesterol also increased after the meal. An increase in high-density-lipoprotein (HDL)-triacylglycerol following the meal was accompanied by a decrease in HDL-cholesterol concentration, presumably due to the action of the cholesteryl-ester transfer protein. The increases in HDL-triacylglycerol and in TRL- cholesterol were correlated with the postprandial rise in triacylglycerol in the TRL (P < 0.01). We conclude that potentially adverse changes occur in both triacylglycerol-rich and high-density lipoproteins following a typical mixed meal, as they do after large fat loads. The changes are exaggerated in those subjects with greater fasting plasma triacylglycerol concentrations.
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