Aspartate transformation at 200 °C with brucite [Mg(OH)2 ], NH3, and H2: Implications for prebiotic molecules in hydrothermal systems Journal Article uri icon

DCO ID 11121/5383-6559-1432-1615-CC

is Contribution to the DCO

  • YES

year of publication

  • 2017


  • Hydrothermal systems may have been favorable environments for the evolution of prebiotic chemistry on early Earth due to the presence of chemical, temperature, and redox gradients that could promote the formation of biomolecules. However, the relevance of these environments in origins of life scenarios has been debated due to rapid decomposition of biologically essential species, such as amino acids, at high temperatures. Little is known about the reactivity of amino acids in the presence of mineral surfaces and reducing conditions, which reflect the geochemical complexities of environments such as serpentinite-hosted hydrothermal vents. We investigated the decomposition of 25 mM aspartate at 200 °C and 15.5 bars (PSAT) in gold capsules both with and without brucite [Mg(OH)2], a mineral product of serpentinization, and reducing conditions (NH4Cl and H2(aq)). We observed that the reaction products of aspartate vary significantly with the initial reaction conditions. Fluids containing aspartate only decomposed to fumarate, maleate, malate, acetate, and trace amounts of succinate and glycine. However, under reducing conditions, the main product was succinate (8 mM) and also approximately 1 mM total of the amino acids glycine, α-alanine, and β-alanine. The amount of α-alanine increased three-fold with brucite. Furthermore, we detected a two-fold decrease in the fumarate concentration, whereas total maleate concentration dramatically decreased over ten-fold and resulted in an overall increase in the trans/cis ratio of these deamination products of aspartate from 0.9 to 4.5 as a function of brucite loading. This net decrease in fumarate and maleate concentration and the five-fold increase in the trans/cis ratio might have been caused by a combination of a pH increase and the formation of magnesite due to increased Mg2 + ion concentration. The results of this study provide evidence that the fundamental properties of a hydrothermal system, including mineral assemblages, reducing conditions, and dissolved species concentrations, will influence the fate of amino acids at high temperature.


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