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      Prebiotic Synthesis of Methionine and Other Sulfur-Containing Organic Compounds on the Primitive Earth: A Contemporary Reassessment Based on an Unpublished 1958 Stanley Miller Experiment

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          Original extracts from an unpublished 1958 experiment conducted by the late Stanley L. Miller were recently found and analyzed using modern state-of-the-art analytical methods. The extracts were produced by the action of an electric discharge on a mixture of methane (CH 4), hydrogen sulfide (H 2S), ammonia (NH 3), and carbon dioxide (CO 2). Racemic methionine was formed in significant yields, together with other sulfur-bearing organic compounds. The formation of methionine and other compounds from a model prebiotic atmosphere that contained H 2S suggests that this type of synthesis is robust under reducing conditions, which may have existed either in the global primitive atmosphere or in localized volcanic environments on the early Earth. The presence of a wide array of sulfur-containing organic compounds produced by the decomposition of methionine and cysteine indicates that in addition to abiotic synthetic processes, degradation of organic compounds on the primordial Earth could have been important in diversifying the inventory of molecules of biochemical significance not readily formed from other abiotic reactions, or derived from extraterrestrial delivery.

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          Most cited references 31

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          A production of amino acids under possible primitive earth conditions.

           Travis Miller (1953)
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            A hydrogen-rich early Earth atmosphere.

            We show that the escape of hydrogen from early Earth's atmosphere likely occurred at rates slower by two orders of magnitude than previously thought. The balance between slow hydrogen escape and volcanic outgassing could have maintained a hydrogen mixing ratio of more than 30%. The production of prebiotic organic compounds in such an atmosphere would have been more efficient than either exogenous delivery or synthesis in hydrothermal systems. The organic soup in the oceans and ponds on early Earth would have been a more favorable place for the origin of life than previously thought.
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              The rise of atmospheric oxygen.

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                Author and article information

                +1-858-5344258 , +1-858-5342995 ,
                Orig Life Evol Biosph
                Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere
                Springer Netherlands (Dordrecht )
                10 November 2010
                10 November 2010
                June 2011
                : 41-41
                : 3
                : 201-212
                [1 ]Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093 USA
                [2 ]Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 5251 Broad Branch Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20015 USA
                [3 ]NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Solar System Exploration Division, Greenbelt, MD 20771 USA
                [4 ]Facultad de Ciencias, UNAM, Apdo. Postal 70-407 Cd. Universitaria, 04510 Mexico D. F., Mexico
                [5 ]Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, 8615 Kennel Way, La Jolla, CA 92093-0212 USA
                [6 ]School of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332 USA
                © The Author(s) 2010
                Prebiotic Chemistry
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                © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

                Evolutionary Biology

                sulfur, methionine, amino acids, prebiotic chemistry


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