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    Uracil is one of the four RNA nucleobases and a component of meteoritic organics. If delivered to the early Earth, uracil could have been involved in the origins of the first RNA-based life, and so this molecule could be a biomarker on other worlds. Therefore, it is important to understand uracil's survival to ionizing radiation in extraterrestrial environments. Here we present a study of the radiolytic destruction kinetics of uracil and mixtures of uracil diluted in H2O or CO2 ice. All samples were irradiated by protons with an energy of 0.9 MeV, and experiments were performed at 20 and 150 K to determine destruction rate constants at temperatures relevant to interstellar and Solar System environments. We show that uracil is destroyed much faster when H2O ice or CO2 ice is present than when these two ices are absent. Moreover, destruction is faster for CO2-dominated ices than for H2O-dominated ones and, to a lesser extent, at 150 K compared with 20 K. Extrapolation of our laboratory results to astronomical timescales shows that uracil will be preserved in ices with half-lives of up to ∼107 years on cold planetary bodies such as comets or Pluto. An important implication of our results is that for extraterrestrial environments, the application of laboratory data measured for the radiation-induced destruction of pure (neat) uracil samples can greatly underestimate the molecule's rate of destruction and significantly overestimate its lifetime, which can lead to errors of over 1000%.


    Perry A Gerakines, Danna Qasim, Sarah Frail, Reggie L Hudson. Radiolytic Destruction of Uracil in Interstellar and Solar System Ices. Astrobiology. 2022 Mar;22(3):233-241

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    PMID: 34672795

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