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Amino acids on the rampant primordial Earth: Electric discharges and the hot salty ocean


For more than 50 years scientists who study prebiotic chemistry have been dealing with chemical evolution as it could have possibly taken place on the primordial Earth. Since we will never know what processes have really taken place around 3.8 to 4 billion years ago we can only come up with plausible reaction pathways that work well in an early Earth scenario as indicated by geochemists. In our work we have investigated the plausibility of one particularly important branch of prebiotic chemistry, the formation of amino acids, by electric discharge in a neutral atmosphere composed of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapour above liquid water. We have found yields of various amino acids under different temperature conditions, with and without sodium chloride in a simulated primordial lake or ocean within extremely short reaction times compared to the timespan available for prebiotic evolution.

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high performance liquid chromatography


octadecyl silyl


photomultiplier tube


Salt-induced Peptide Formation




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Correspondence to Bernd M. Rode.

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Plankensteiner, K., Reiner, H. & Rode, B.M. Amino acids on the rampant primordial Earth: Electric discharges and the hot salty ocean. Mol Divers 10, 3–7 (2006).

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  • amino acids
  • electric discharge
  • origin of life
  • plasma chemistry
  • prebiotic chemistry
  • primordial Earth