The sulphur-containing proteinaceous amino acids l-cysteine, l-cystine and l-methionine were irradiated in the solid state to a dose of 3.2 MGy. This dose corresponds to that delivered by radionuclide
decay in a timescale of 1.05 × 109 years to the organic matter buried at a depth >20 m in comets and asteroids. The purity of the sulphur-containing amino acids
was studied by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) before and after the solid state radiolysis and the preservation of
the chirality after the radiolysis was studied by chirooptical methods (optical rotatory dispersion, ORD) and by FT-IR spectroscopy.
Although the high radiation dose of 3.2 MGy delivered, all the amino acids studied show a high radiation resistance. The best
radiation resistance was offered by l-cysteine. The radiolysis of l-cysteine leads to the formation of l-cystine. The radiation resistance of l-methionine is not at the level of l-cysteine but also l-methionine is able to survive the dose of 3.2 MGy. Furthermore in all cases examined the preservation of chirality after
radiolysis was clearly observed by the ORD spectroscopy although a certain level of radioracemization was measured in all
cases. The radioracemization is minimal in the case of l-cysteine and is more pronounced in the case of l-methionine. In conclusion, the study shows that the sulphur-containing amino acids can survive for 1.05 × 109 years and, after extrapolation of the data, even to the age of the Solar System i.e. to 4.6 × 109 years.