Chemical Analysis of a "Miller-Type" Complex Prebiotic Broth: Part II: Gas, Oil, Water and the Oil/Water-Interface

Sabrina Scherer, Eva Wollrab, Luca Codutti, Teresa Carlomagno, Stefan Gomes da Costa, Andreas Volkmer, Amela Bronja, Oliver J Schmitz, Albrecht Ott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We have analyzed the chemical variety obtained by Miller-Urey-type experiments using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) spectroscopy, gas chromatography followed by mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and two-dimensional gas chromatography followed by mass spectrometry (GCxGC/MS). In the course of a running Miller-Urey-type experiment, a hydrophobic organic layer emerged besides the hydrophilic aqueous phase and the gaseous phase that were initially present. The gas phase mainly consisted of aromatic compounds and molecules containing C≡C or C≡N triple bonds. The hydrophilic phase contained at least a few thousands of different molecules, primarily distributed in a range of 50 and 500 Da. The hydrophobic phase is characterized by carbon-rich, oil-like compounds and their amphiphilic derivatives containing oxygen with tensioactive properties. The presence of a wide range of oxidized molecules hints to the availability of oxygen radicals. We suggest that they intervene in the formation of alkylated polyethylene glycol (PEG) in the oil/water interface. CARS spectroscopy revealed distinct vibrational molecular signatures. In particular, characteristic spectral bands for cyanide compounds were observed if the broth was prepared with electric discharges in the gaseous phase. The characteristic spectral bands were absent if discharges were released onto the water surface. NMR spectroscopy on the same set of samples independently confirmed the observation. In addition, NMR spectroscopy revealed overall high chemical variability that suggests strong non-linearities due to interdependent, sequential reaction steps.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-403
Number of pages23
JournalOrigins of life and evolution of the biosphere : the journal of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Gases/analysis
  • Oils/analysis
  • Origin of Life
  • Water/analysis


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