Synthesis and Chirality of Amino Acids Under Interstellar Conditions.
Topics in current chemistry, September 2012
Giri C, Goesmann F, Meinert C, Evans AC, Meierhenrich UJ, Chaitanya Giri, Fred Goesmann, Cornelia Meinert, Amanda C. Evans, Uwe J. Meierhenrich
Amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of proteins, the biomolecules that provide cellular structure and function in all living organisms. A majority of amino acids utilized within living systems possess pre-specified orientation geometry (chirality); however the original source for this specific orientation remains uncertain. In order to trace the chemical evolution of life, an appreciation of the synthetic and evolutional origins of the first chiral amino acids must first be gained. Given that the amino acids in our universe are likely to have been synthesized in molecular clouds in interstellar space, it is necessary to understand where and how the first synthesis might have occurred. The asymmetry of the original amino acid synthesis was probably the result of exposure to chiral photons in the form of circularly polarized light (CPL), which has been detected in interstellar molecular clouds. This chirality transfer event, from photons to amino acids, has been successfully recreated experimentally and is likely a combination of both asymmetric synthesis and enantioselective photolysis. A series of innovative studies have reported successful simulation of these environments and afforded production of chiral amino acids under realistic circumstellar and interstellar conditions: irradiation of interstellar ice analogues (CO, CO2, NH3, CH3OH, and H2O) with circularly polarized ultraviolet photons at low temperatures does result in enantiomer enriched amino acid structures (up to 1.3% ee). This topical review summarizes current knowledge and recent discoveries about the simulated interstellar environments within which amino acids were probably formed. A synopsis of the COSAC experiment onboard the ESA cometary mission ROSETTA concludes this review: the ROSETTA mission will soft-land on the nucleus of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014, anticipating the first in situ detection of asymmetric organic molecules in cometary ices.
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