Meteorites and the RNA World: A Thermodynamic Model of Nucleobase Synthesis within Planetesimals
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The possible meteorite parent body origin of Earth's pregenetic nucleobases is substantiated by the guanine (G), adenine (A), and uracil (U) measured in various meteorites. Cytosine (C) and thymine (T), however, are absent in meteorites, making the emergence of an RNA and later RNA/DNA/protein world problematic. We investigated the meteorite parent body (planetesimal) origin of all nucleobases by computationally modeling 18 reactions that potentially contribute to nucleobase formation in such environments. Out of this list, we identified the two most important reactions for each nucleobase and found that these involve small molecules such as HCN, CO, NH3, and water that ultimately arise from the protoplanetary disks in which planetesimals are built. The primary result of this study is that cytosine is unlikely to persist within meteorite parent bodies due to aqueous deamination. Thymine has a thermodynamically favorable reaction pathway from uracil, formaldehyde, and formic acid but likely did not persist within planetesimals containing H2O2 due to an oxidation reaction with this molecule. Finally, while Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis is found to be the dominant source of nucleobases within our model planetesimal, non-catalytic (NC) synthesis may still be significant under certain chemical conditions (e.g., within CR2 parent bodies). We discuss several major consequences of our results for the origin of the RNA world. Key Words: Astrobiology-Cosmochemistry-Meteorites-RNA world-Abiotic organic synthesis. Astrobiology 16, 853-872.