de Marcellus, P., Bertrand, M., Nuevo, M., Westall, F. and Hendecourt, L.L.
Astrobiology 11 (9) 847-854
The delivery of extraterrestrial organic materials to primitive Earth from meteorites or micrometeorites has long been postulated to be one of the origins of the prebiotic molecules involved in the subsequent apparition of life. Here, we report on experiments in which vacuum UV photo-irradiation of interstellar/circumstellar ice analogues containing H(2)O, CH(3)OH, and NH(3) led to the production of several molecules of prebiotic interest. These were recovered at room temperature in the semi-refractory, water-soluble residues after evaporation of the ice. In particular, we detected small quantities of hydantoin (2,4-imidazolidinedione), a species suspected to play an important role in the formation of poly- and oligopeptides. In addition, hydantoin is known to form under extraterrestrial, abiotic conditions, since it has been detected, along with various other derivatives, in the soluble part of organic matter of primitive carbonaceous meteorites. This result, together with other related experiments reported recently, points to the potential importance of the photochemistry of interstellar "dirty" ices in the formation of organics in Solar System materials. Such molecules could then have been delivered to the surface of primitive Earth, as well as other telluric (exo-) planets, to help trigger first prebiotic reactions with the capacity to lead to some form of primitive biomolecular activity.