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Joan Oró

Joan Oró i Florensa (1923 – 2004) was a Spanish Catalan biochemist whose research has been of importance in understanding the origin of life.

Oró was born in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain, on October 26 1923. From the 1960s he worked with NASA on the Viking missions which explored the planet Mars. His work was essential in the analysis of samples of Martian soil, and suggested that there was in fact no life on Mars.

One of his most important contributions was the prebiotic synthesis of the nucleobase adenine (a key component of nucleic acids) from hydrogen cyanide. This was achieved during the period 1959-1962 and stands, together with the Miller-Urey experiment, as one of the fundamental results of prebiotic chemistry. It opened up a research area eventually leading to the complete synthesis of other components of nucleic acids. He was also the first scientist pointing towards comets as the carriers of organic molecules to our early biosphere. This conjecture (formulated in 1961) is largely accepted today.

Oró also provided a chemical interpretation of a set of remarkable results reported by the Viking mission to Mars. The Viking lander performed a series of experiments, including one designed by Oró, involving a small gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer. In one of these experiments, where a set of nutrients was mixed with Martian soil samples, a sudden production of carbon dioxide was reported, initially suggesting the presence of Martian microbes, which would have shown some kind of metabolic processing of nutrients. Oró showed that a simpler, abiotic interpretation was more likely to be the correct one: the catalytic chemical oxidation of test nutrients.

He was awarded, among other honors, the Cross of Civil Order of Alfonso X el Sabio (Madrid, 1983), the Alexander Ivanovich Oparin Medal Award from the ISSOL (Berkeley, 1986), the Creu de Sant Jordi (1991), and the Medalla del President Francesc Macià (2000).

He died in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, on September 2 2004.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Joan_Oró". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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