Compound-specific carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen isotopic ratios for amino acids in CM and CR chondrites and their use in evaluating potential formation pathways


Corresponding author. E-mail:


Abstract– Stable hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen isotopic ratios (δD, δ13C, and δ15N) of organic compounds can reveal information about their origin and formation pathways. Several formation mechanisms and environments have been postulated for the amino acids detected in carbonaceous chondrites. As each proposed mechanism utilizes different precursor molecules, the isotopic signatures of the resulting amino acids may indicate the most likely of these pathways. We have applied gas chromatography with mass spectrometry and combustion isotope ratio mass spectrometry to measure the compound-specific C, N, and H stable isotopic ratios of amino acids from seven CM and CR carbonaceous chondrites: CM1/2 Allan Hills (ALH) 83100, CM2 Murchison, CM2 Lewis Cliff (LEW) 90500, CM2 Lonewolf Nunataks (LON) 94101, CR2 Graves Nunataks (GRA) 95229, CR2 Elephant Moraine (EET) 92042, and CR3 Queen Alexandra Range (QUE) 99177. We compare the isotopic compositions of amino acids in these meteorites with predictions of expected isotopic enrichments from potential formation pathways. We observe trends of decreasing δ13C and increasing δD with increasing carbon number in the α-H, α-NH2 amino acids that correspond to predictions made for formation via Strecker-cyanohydrin synthesis. We also observe light δ13C signatures for β-alanine, which may indicate either formation via Michael addition or via a pathway that forms primarily small, straight-chain, amine-terminal amino acids (n-ω-amino acids). Higher deuterium enrichments are observed in α-methyl amino acids, indicating formation of these amino acids or their precursors in cold interstellar or nebular environments. Finally, individual amino acids are more enriched in deuterium in CR chondrites than in CM chondrites, reflecting different parent-body chemistry.