Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 29–42 | Cite as

Reactivity and Survivability of Glycolaldehyde in Simulated Meteorite Impact Experiments

  • V. P. McCaffreyEmail author
  • N. E. B. Zellner
  • C. M. Waun
  • E. R. Bennett
  • E. K. Earl


Sugars of extraterrestrial origin have been observed in the interstellar medium (ISM), in at least one comet spectrum, and in several carbonaceous chondritic meteorites that have been recovered from the surface of the Earth. The origins of these sugars within the meteorites have been debated. To explore the possibility that sugars could be generated during shock events, this paper reports on the results of the first laboratory impact experiments wherein glycolaldehyde, found in the ISM, as well as glycolaldehyde mixed with montmorillonite clay, have been subjected to reverberated shocks from ~5 to >25 GPa. New biologically relevant molecules, including threose, erythrose and ethylene glycol, were identified in the resulting samples. These results show that sugar molecules can not only survive but also become more complex during impact delivery to planetary bodies.


Astrobiology Biomolecules Impacts Sugars Origin of life 



This project was funded by grants from the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Directors’ Discretionary Fund and the NASA Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology Program (10-EXO10-0109). NEBZ and VPM were additionally supported by grants from the Hewlett Mellon Fund for Faculty Development at Albion College, Albion, MI. ERB, EKE, and CMW were supported by Albion College’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity. We thank Mark Cintala, Frank Cardenas and Roland Montes at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Experimental Impact Facility for their assistance during the impact experiments. We also thank David Carey at Albion College for assistance in the chemistry labs and John Delano at the University of Albany (SUNY) for providing the montmorillonite clay. The authors thank Prakash Joshi, Gavin Reid, John Delano, Bruce Watson, Lisa Lewis and Jim Dye for constructive comments, and VPM thanks Chris Rohlman at Albion College for discussions about biochemistry. Finally, the authors thank two anonymous reviewers for comments that improved this manuscript.

Supplementary material

11084_2014_9358_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 2.00 MB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. P. McCaffrey
    • 1
    Email author
  • N. E. B. Zellner
    • 2
  • C. M. Waun
    • 1
  • E. R. Bennett
    • 1
  • E. K. Earl
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ChemistryAlbion CollegeAlbionUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhysicsAlbion CollegeAlbionUSA

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