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Astrobiology. 2017 Aug;17(8):786-812. doi: 10.1089/ast.2016.1492. Epub 2017 Jul 20.

Laboratory Studies of Methane and Its Relationship to Prebiotic Chemistry.

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1 Department of Chemistry, Yokohama National University , Yokohama, Japan .
2 Department of Geological Sciences, Stockholm University , Stockholm, Sweden .
3 LATMOS, Université Versailles St-Quentin , UPMC, CNRS, Guyancourt, France .
4 Aix Marseille Université , CNRS, LAM (Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille) UMR 7326, Marseille, France .
5 INAF-Osservatorio Astrofisico di Catania , Catania, Italy .
6 Southwest Research Institute , San Antonio, Texas, USA.
7 Institute of Low Temperature Science, Hokkaido University , Sapporo, Japan .
8 Department of Astronomy, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Steward Observatory, University of Arizona , Tucson, Arizona, USA.


To examine how prebiotic chemical evolution took place on Earth prior to the emergence of life, laboratory experiments have been conducted since the 1950s. Methane has been one of the key molecules in these investigations. In earlier studies, strongly reducing gas mixtures containing methane and ammonia were used to simulate possible reactions in the primitive atmosphere of Earth, producing amino acids and other organic compounds. Since Earth's early atmosphere is now considered to be less reducing, the contribution of extraterrestrial organics to chemical evolution has taken on an important role. Such organic molecules may have come from molecular clouds and regions of star formation that created protoplanetary disks, planets, asteroids, and comets. The interstellar origin of organics has been examined both experimentally and theoretically, including laboratory investigations that simulate interstellar molecular reactions. Endogenous and exogenous organics could also have been supplied to the primitive ocean, making submarine hydrothermal systems plausible sites of the generation of life. Experiments that simulate such hydrothermal systems where methane played an important role have consequently been conducted. Processes that occur in other Solar System bodies offer clues to the prebiotic chemistry of Earth. Titan and other icy bodies, where methane plays significant roles, are especially good targets. In the case of Titan, methane is both in the atmosphere and in liquidospheres that are composed of methane and other hydrocarbons, and these have been studied in simulation experiments. Here, we review the wide range of experimental work in which these various terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments have been modeled, and we examine the possible role of methane in chemical evolution. Key Words: Methane-Interstellar environments-Submarine hydrothermal systems-Titan-Origin of life. Astrobiology 17, 786-812.

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