Amphiphilic components of the murchison carbonaceous chondrite: Surface properties and membrane formation

  • D. W. Deamer
  • R. M. Pashley


We have investigated physicochemical properties of amphiphilic compounds in carbonaceous meteorites. The primary aim was to determine whether such materials represent plausible sources of lipid-like compounds that could have been involved as membrane components in primitive cells. Samples of the Murchison CM2 chondrite were extracted with chloroform-methanol, and the chloroform-soluble material was separated by two-dimensional thin layer chromatography. Fluorescnece, iodine stains and charring were used to identify major components on the plates. These were than scraped and eluted as specific fractions which were investigated by fluorescence and absorption spectra, surface chemical methods, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, and electron microscopy. Fraction 5 was strongly fluorescent, and contained pyrene and fluoranthene, the major polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons of the Murchison chondrite. This fraction was also present in extracts from the Murray and Mighei CM2 chondrites. Fraction 3 was surface active, forming apparent monomolecular films at air-water interfaces. Surface force measurements suggested that fraction 3 contained acidic groups. Fraction 1 was also surface active, and certain components could self-assemble into membranous vesicles which encapsulated polar solutes. The observations reported here demonstrate that organic compounds plausibly available on the primitive Earth through meteoritic infall are surface active, and have the ability to self-assemble into membranes.


Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Pyrene Thin Layer Chromatography Fluoranthene Carbonaceous Chondrite 
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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. W. Deamer
    • 1
  • R. M. Pashley
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Chemistry, The FacultiesThe Australian National universityCanberraAustralia

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