Enhanced Synthesis of Alkyl Amino Acids in Miller’s 1958 H2S Experiment
Stanley Miller’s 1958 H2S-containing experiment, which included a simulated prebiotic atmosphere of methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), carbon dioxide (CO2), and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) produced several alkyl amino acids, including the α-, β-, and γ-isomers of aminobutyric acid (ABA) in greater relative yields than had previously been reported from his spark discharge experiments. In the presence of H2S, aspartic and glutamic acids could yield alkyl amino acids via the formation of thioimide intermediates. Radical chemistry initiated by passing H2S through a spark discharge could have also enhanced alkyl amino acid synthesis by generating alkyl radicals that can help form the aldehyde and ketone precursors to these amino acids. We propose mechanisms that may have influenced the synthesis of certain amino acids in localized environments rich in H2S and lightning discharges, similar to conditions near volcanic systems on the early Earth, thus contributing to the prebiotic chemical inventory of the primordial Earth.