Submit Manuscript  

Article Details

Atmospheric Prebiotic Chemistry and Organic Hazes

[ Vol. 17 , Issue. 16 ]


Melissa G. Trainer   Pages 1710 - 1723 ( 14 )


Earth’s atmospheric composition at the time of the origin of life is not known, but it has often been suggested that chemical transformation of reactive species in the atmosphere was a significant source of prebiotic organic molecules. Experimental and theoretical studies over the past half century have shown that atmospheric synthesis can yield molecules such as amino acids and nucleobases, but these processes are very sensitive to gas composition and energy source. Abiotic synthesis of organic molecules is more productive in reduced atmospheres, yet the primitive Earth may not have been as reducing as earlier workers assumed, and recent research has reflected this shift in thinking. This work provides a survey of the range of chemical products that can be produced given a set of atmospheric conditions, with a particular focus on recent reports. Intertwined with the discussion of atmospheric synthesis is the consideration of an organic haze layer, which has been suggested as a possible ultraviolet shield on the anoxic early Earth. Since such a haze layer – if formed – would serve as a reservoir for organic molecules, the chemical composition of the aerosol should be closely examined. The results highlighted here show that a variety of products can be formed in mildly reducing or even neutral atmospheres, demonstrating that contributions of atmospheric synthesis to the organic inventory on early Earth should not be discounted. This review intends to bridge current knowledge of the range of possible atmospheric conditions in the prebiotic environment and pathways for synthesis under such conditions by examining the possible products of organic chemistry in the early atmosphere.


Amino acid formation, Abiotic synthesis, Chemical evolution, Early earth atmosphere, Organic haze, Prebiotic chemistry, Primitive earth.


Planetary Environments Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 699, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA.

Read Full-Text article