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Uracil in carbonaceous meteorites

Abstract

Previous analyses of carbonaceous chondrites have demonstrated the presence of the biologically significant purines adenine, guanine, hypoxanthine and xanthine1–3. To date, however, no pyrimidine of biological importance has been reported. An earlier report4 of a fraction extracted from the Murray meteorite showing ‘cytosine-like’ spectral characteristics was later shown to be due to an artefact of the analytical method5,6. Some unusual pyrimidines which have no known biological function were reported in extracts from the Murchison, Murray and Orgueil carbonaceous chondrites7. However, these results have not been replicated and are now thought to have been due to artefacts2,3. Because of the reported synthesis of the pyrimidines uracil, thymine and cytosine in Fischer-Tropsch-type reactions8,9 and the suggestion that such reactions may have been of significance in the production of organic material in meteorites9,10, we have reinvestigated the possible occurrence of pyrimidines in extracts from the Murchison, Murray and Orgueil carbonaceous meteorites using specific fractionation techniques and high-sensitivity analysis. The pyrimidines uracil, thymine and cytosine, together with the purines adenine and guanine are, of course, the building blocks of terrestrial genetic inheritance. Therefore their presence or absence in meteorites is also of considerable interest to theories of chemical evolution and the origin of life. We report here the positive identification of uracil in water and formic acid extracts of all three meteorites.

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Stoks, P., Schwartz, A. Uracil in carbonaceous meteorites. Nature 282, 709–710 (1979). https://doi.org/10.1038/282709a0

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