Research Topic

RNA World Hypothesis and the Origin of Life: Astrochemistry Perspective

About this Research Topic

Stellar systems are formed through the collapse of molecular clouds in various phases, which in turn in their lifetimes return copious amounts of atomic and molecular material enriched by nucleosynthesis to the interstellar medium. During this cyclic interaction between the stars and the interstellar medium in galaxies, an in-depth understanding of chemical evolution is the heart of astrochemistry. The molecular chemical composition systematically changes as the interstellar cloud evolves from diffuse clouds to dense quiescent molecular clouds to star-forming regions and protoplanetary disks.

In “RNA World” (Nucleobases, Ribose Sugar, Phosphate, Amino acids) RNA is the predecessor of life. To disclose the RNA World Hypothesis and the “secrets” of the origin of life on Earth (and elsewhere?) , the first step is to understand how and where the small prebiotic molecules could form with special emphasis on just how far does the complexity in pre-biotic chemistry proceed as the interstellar clouds evolve toward forming stars and protoplanetary disks.

The Cassini largest planetary exploration mission measurements have revealed that Titan’s atmosphere is hosting extraordinarily complex organic chemistry, and molecules may be similar in structure and containing the same functional groups as pre-biological molecules on Earth. This extraordinarily complex chemistry on Titan is far surpassing that in other environments in our solar system. Titan therefore offers us a unique opportunity to investigate the beginning of biological synthesis.

In search of small prebiotic molecules and how they evolve in complexity toward building blocks of biomolecules in space (interstellar medium, protoplanetary disks, and planetary atmospheres) for subsequent biological cell evolution and life’s origin, this research topic will address the following three themes:
1. State-of-the-art radio and terahertz receivers for precision spectroscopy of molecules in protoplanetary systems. A large single-aperture telescope with a heterodyne receiver will fulfill the requirements for very high spectral resolving power (~ 106) and ultrahigh sensitivity. A space-based far-infrared interferometer can provide the very high angular resolution needed to resolve protoplanetary disks and map the distributions of the molecules that may be the precursors to life.
2. A coordinated research effort involving high-resolution rotational spectroscopy and quantum chemistry theoretical underpinnings.
3. Experimental studies of elementary reactions at very low temperatures. Molecular spectroscopy of ultra-cold isolated molecular ions carbocations and carbanions : A high-resolution rotational MW/mm/submm experimental perspective.


Keywords: Rotational Spectroscopy, Reaction Kinetics, Complex Organic Molecules, Molecular Astronomy, Telescope, Interferometry, Heterodyne Technique, Star-forming Regions, Protoplanetary Disks, Planetary Atmospheres, Millimeter/submillimeter Wavelengths


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Stellar systems are formed through the collapse of molecular clouds in various phases, which in turn in their lifetimes return copious amounts of atomic and molecular material enriched by nucleosynthesis to the interstellar medium. During this cyclic interaction between the stars and the interstellar medium in galaxies, an in-depth understanding of chemical evolution is the heart of astrochemistry. The molecular chemical composition systematically changes as the interstellar cloud evolves from diffuse clouds to dense quiescent molecular clouds to star-forming regions and protoplanetary disks.

In “RNA World” (Nucleobases, Ribose Sugar, Phosphate, Amino acids) RNA is the predecessor of life. To disclose the RNA World Hypothesis and the “secrets” of the origin of life on Earth (and elsewhere?) , the first step is to understand how and where the small prebiotic molecules could form with special emphasis on just how far does the complexity in pre-biotic chemistry proceed as the interstellar clouds evolve toward forming stars and protoplanetary disks.

The Cassini largest planetary exploration mission measurements have revealed that Titan’s atmosphere is hosting extraordinarily complex organic chemistry, and molecules may be similar in structure and containing the same functional groups as pre-biological molecules on Earth. This extraordinarily complex chemistry on Titan is far surpassing that in other environments in our solar system. Titan therefore offers us a unique opportunity to investigate the beginning of biological synthesis.

In search of small prebiotic molecules and how they evolve in complexity toward building blocks of biomolecules in space (interstellar medium, protoplanetary disks, and planetary atmospheres) for subsequent biological cell evolution and life’s origin, this research topic will address the following three themes:
1. State-of-the-art radio and terahertz receivers for precision spectroscopy of molecules in protoplanetary systems. A large single-aperture telescope with a heterodyne receiver will fulfill the requirements for very high spectral resolving power (~ 106) and ultrahigh sensitivity. A space-based far-infrared interferometer can provide the very high angular resolution needed to resolve protoplanetary disks and map the distributions of the molecules that may be the precursors to life.
2. A coordinated research effort involving high-resolution rotational spectroscopy and quantum chemistry theoretical underpinnings.
3. Experimental studies of elementary reactions at very low temperatures. Molecular spectroscopy of ultra-cold isolated molecular ions carbocations and carbanions : A high-resolution rotational MW/mm/submm experimental perspective.


Keywords: Rotational Spectroscopy, Reaction Kinetics, Complex Organic Molecules, Molecular Astronomy, Telescope, Interferometry, Heterodyne Technique, Star-forming Regions, Protoplanetary Disks, Planetary Atmospheres, Millimeter/submillimeter Wavelengths


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

25 November 2020 Abstract
22 February 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

25 November 2020 Abstract
22 February 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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