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Meteorite Impacts Can Create DNA Building Blocks

A new study shown that meteorite impacts on ancient oceans may have created nucleobases and amino acids. Researchers from Tohoku University, National Institute for Materials Science and Hiroshima University discovered this after conducting impact experiments simulating a meteorite hitting an ancient ocean (Fig. 1 and 2).

With precise analysis of the products recovered after impacts, the team found the formation of nucleobases and amino acids from inorganic compounds. The research is reported this week in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

All the genetic information of modern life is stored in DNA as sequences of nucleobases. However, formation of nucleobases from inorganic compounds available on prebiotic Earth had been considered to be difficult.

In 2009, this team reported the formation of the simplest amino acid, glycine, by simulating meteorite impacts. This time, they replaced the carbon source with bicarbonate and conducted hypervelocity impact experiments at 1 km/s using a single stage propellant gun (Figure 2).

They found the formation of a far larger variety of life's building blocks, including two kinds of nucleobases and nine kinds of proteinogenic amino acids. The results suggest a new route for how genetic molecules may have first formed on Earth.

20150818_10.pngFigure 1: Schematics of nucleobases formation by meteorite impact on earth.

20150818_20.pngFigure 2: Single stage propellant gun at National Institute for Materials Science Japan used for the hypervelocity impact experiments.


This research was supported by JSPS KAKENHI (Grant Number: 22654063 and 24244084, and 23740402).

Article information

Furukawa Y., Nakazawa H., Sekine T., Kobayashi T., Kakegawa T.,
Nucleobases and amino acids formation through impacts of meteorites on the early ocean.
Earth and Planetary Science Letters (2015),


Dr. Yoshihiro Furukawa
Assistant Professor, Department of Earth Science, Tohoku University
Email: furukawa* (Replace * with @)
Tel: +81-22-795-3453

Dr. Takamichi Koybayashi
Principal Researcher, Ultra-High Pressure Processes Group
Materials Processing Unit, National Institute for Materials Science
Email: KOBAYASHI.Takamichi* (Replace * with @)
Tel: +81-29-860-4419

Dr. Toshimori Sekine
Professor, Department of Earth and Planetary System Science, Hiroshima University
Email: toshimori-sekine* (Replace * with @)
Tel: +81-82-424-7474