1953 was a banner year for biological chemistry: The double helix structure of DNA was published by Watson and Crick, Sanger's group announced the first amino acid sequence of a protein (insulin) and the synthesis of key biomolecules using simulated primordial Earth conditions has demonstrated by Miller. Miller's studies in particular transformed the study of the origin of life into a respectable field of inquiry and established the basis of prebiotic chemistry, a field of research that investigates how the components of life as we know it can be formed in a variety of cosmogeochemical environments. In this review, I cover the continued advances in prebiotic syntheses that Miller's pioneering work has inspired. The main focus is on recent state-of-the-art analyses carried out on archived samples of Miller's original experiments, some of which had never before been analyzed, discovered in his laboratory material just before his death in May 2007. One experiment utilized a reducing gas mixture and an apparatus configuration (referred to here as the “volcanic” apparatus) that could represent a water-rich volcanic eruption accompanied by lightning. Another included H2S as a component of the reducing gas mixture. Compared to the limited number of amino acids Miller identified, these new analyses have found that over 40 different amino acids and amines were synthesized, demonstrating the potential robust formation of important biologic compounds under possible cosmogeochemical conditions. These experiments are suggested to simulate long-lived volcanic island arc systems, an environment that could have provided a stable environment for some of the processes thought to be involved in chemical evolution and the origin of life. Some of the alternatives to the Miller-based prebiotic synthesis and the “primordial soup” paradigm are evaluated in the context of their relevance under plausible planetary conditions.
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