Origins of life and evolution of the biosphere

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 221-227

First online:

Carbonaceous chondrites and the origin of life

  • Hyman HartmanAffiliated withDepartment of Soil Science, University of California
  • , Michael A. SweeneyAffiliated withDepartment of Chemistry, University of Santa Clara
  • , Michael A. KroppAffiliated withDepartment of Chemistry, University of Santa Clara
  • , John S. LewisAffiliated withLunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Organic matter in carbonaceous chondrites can be separated into three fractions. The first component, the fraction that is insoluble in chloroform and methanol, has a part which is of interstellar origin (1). The other two fractions (chloroform-soluble hydrocarbons and methanol-soluble polar organics) are hypothesized to have been synthesized on a planetoid body (2). We propose that the polar organics, i.e., amino acids, were synthesized close to its surface by the radiolysis of hydrocarbons and ammonium carbonate in a liquid water environment. Some hydrocarbons may have been synthesized by a Fischer-Tropsch mechanism (3) in the interior of the body. Ferrous ion acted as a protection against back reactions. The simultaneous synthesis of iron-rich clays with the polar organics may be indicative of events related to the origin of life on Earth.