Understanding the origin of bio-organic molecules is a key step in determining how life on Earth began. In 1953, the Miller-Urey experiment showed that amino acids can be produced by electrical discharges in simple gases. Ever since then, scientists have demonstrated that many organic compounds can be formed from non-biological processes.

Astrobiologists are now trying to determine how biomolecules used by life were selected from the complex mixture of molecules that may have been available on the early Earth. Of particular interest is the formation and selection of nucelobases that could have played a role in the RNA world hypothesis. Andro Rios, a NASA Postdoctoral Program participant with the Exobiology Branch at NASA Ames, has provided commentary on recent experiments examining the production of nucleobases from a simple organic compound exposed to the shock of simulated impact events.

The commentary, “Impact synthesis of the RNA bases,” was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.