By Fernandez et al.
Mineral-assisted thermal decomposition of formamide (HCONH2) is a heavily studied model prebiotic reaction that has offered valuable insights into the plausible pathways leading to the chemical building blocks of primordial informational polymers. To date, most efforts have focused on the analysis of formamide reaction products released in solution, although several studies have examined the role of mineral catalysts in promoting this chemistry. We show here that the direct investigation of reactive mineral surfaces by desorption electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry imaging (DESI-MSI) gives a new perspective on the important role of the mineral surface in the formation of reaction products. As a proof-of-principle example, we show that DESI-MSI allows interrogation of the molecular products produced on heterogeneous granite samples with minimal sample preparation. Purine and pyrimidine nucleobases and their derivatives are successfully detected by DESI-MSI, with a strong correlation of the spatial product distribution with the mineral micro-environment. To our knowledge, this study is the first application of DESI-MSI to the study of complex and porous mineral surfaces, and their roles in chemical evolution. This DESI-MSI approach is generally applicable to a wide range of reactions or other processes involving minerals.