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Understanding the process of galaxy formation is one of the most active areas of astronomical research, but our knowledge of the sequence by which gas eventually forms galaxies is still seriously incomplete. Fortunately, the rapid advancement of mm--wave technology has now made it possible to observe molecular species, such as CO, in high--redshift radio galaxies and other regions thought to harbor nascent galaxies. These observations provide direct measurements of the gaseous reservoir from which stars form.
We discuss the current status of high redshift observations of molecular gas and their implications on galaxy formation. We also model the chemical evolution of carbon and oxygen in the early universe and find that oxygen should be much more prevalent in high redshift systems than at the current epoch. Our models and observations suggest that the interstellar chemistry in the early universe could be vastly different than our local environment.
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