Computational study of interstellar glycine formation occurring at radical surfaces of water-ice dust particles

Albert Rimola, Mariona Sodupe, Piero Ugliengo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Glycine is the simplest amino acid, and due to the significant astrobiological implications that suppose its detection, the search for it in the interstellar medium (ISM), meteorites, and comets is intensively investigated. In the present work, quantum mechanical calculations based on density functional theory have been used to model the glycine formation on water-ice clusters present in the ISM. The removal of either one H atom or one electron from the water-ice cluster has been considered to simulate the effect of photolytic radiation and of ionizing particles, respectively, which lead to the formation of OH• radical and H3O+ surface defects. The coupling of incoming CO molecules with the surface OH • radicals on the ice clusters yields the formation of the COOH• radicals via ZPE-corrected energy barriers and reaction energies of about 4-5kcalmol-1 and -22kcalmol-1, respectively. The COOH• radicals couple with incoming NH=CH 2 molecules (experimentally detected in the ISM) to form the NHCH2COOH• radical glycine through energy barriers of 12kcalmol-1, exceedingly high at ISM cryogenic temperatures. Nonetheless, when H3O+ is present, one proton may be barrierless transferred to NH=CH2 to give NH2=CH 2+. This latter may react with the COOH• radical to give the NH2CH2COOH+• glycine radical cation which can then be transformed into the NH2CHC(OH) 2+• species (the most stable form of glycine in its radical cation state) or into the NH2CHCOOH• neutral radical glycine. Estimated rate constants of these events suggest that they are kinetically feasible at temperatures of 100-200K, which indicate that their occurrence may take place in hot molecular cores or in comets exposed to warmer regions of solar systems. Present results provide quantum chemical evidence that defects formed on water ices due to the harsh-physical conditions of the ISM may trigger reactions of cosmochemical interest. The relevance of surface H 3O+ ions to facilitate chemical processes by proton transfer (i.e., acting as acidic catalysts) is highlighted, and plausible ways of their formation at the water-ice surface in the ISM are also discussed. © 2012. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Article number24
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2012


  • astrochemistry
  • cosmic rays
  • ISM: molecules
  • molecular processes
  • ultraviolet: ISM


Dive into the research topics of 'Computational study of interstellar glycine formation occurring at radical surfaces of water-ice dust particles'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this