Phosphorus: the missing prebiotic element… found in star-forming regions and comets

Mar 21, 2018, 12:00 PM
Physikzentrum Bad Honnef

Physikzentrum Bad Honnef

Physikzentrum Bad Honnef Hauptstr. 5 53604 Bad Honnef Tel.: (0 22 24) 90 10 114 Fax: (0 22 24) 90 10 130
Contributed Talk The Solar System The Solar System


Víctor M. Rivilla (Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, OAA-INAF)


Phosphorus (P) is a key chemical biogenic element for the development of life[1,2,3,4], because P-compounds are unique to form large biomolecules such as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA), phospholipids (the structural components of all cellular membranes) and the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecule, from which all forms of life assume energy. Despite the critical biological importance of P, it is in remarkably short supply on Earth, which suggests a space origin of P. However, unlike other biogenic elements (C, N, O, S), P is barely detected in the interstellar medium (ISM), and thus our knowledge about P-chemistry is still poor. Our group started several projects to detect simple P-bearing molecules in space. Two complementary targets are being explored: i) parental star-forming cores, whose chemical composition could be inherited; ii) Solar System bodies, whose impact during the heavy bombardment may provide prebiotic molecules to the early Earth. In this talk, I will present the most recent results about the
study of P-bearing molecules (PO and PN) in star-forming regions[5,6] and the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko[7]. Our analysis has allowed us to understand much better the origin of P in the ISM, and to draw a consistent thread between the chemical content of P in a primordial star-forming nebula and Solar System pristine material. These discoveries have strong implications on the highly debated predominant role of PO-based molecules (e.g., phosphates) [8,9] or PN-derivatives[10] in the supply of prebiotic species on our early Earth and consequently on the origin of life.

(References in the attached document)

Primary author

Víctor M. Rivilla (Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, OAA-INAF)


Francesco Fontani (INAF-Arcetri) Maite Beltran Dr Maria Drozdovskaya (Center for Space and Habitability, Universität Bern)

Presentation materials