Albany 2013: Book of Abstracts

category image Albany 2013
Conversation 18
June 11-15 2013
©Adenine Press (2012)

Combinatorial chemistry in the prebiotic environment

The pathway leading to the origin of life presumably included a process by which polymers were synthesized abiotically from simpler compounds on the early Earth, then encapsulated to form protocells. Previous studies have reported that mineral surfaces can concentrate and organize activated mononucleotides, thereby promoting their polymerization into RNA-like molecules. However, a plausible prebiotic activation mechanism has not been established, and minerals cannot form cellular compartments. We are exploring ways in which non-activated mononucleotides can undergo polymerization and encapsulation We found that small yields of RNA-like molecules are synthesized by a condensation reaction when mixtures of amphiphilic lipids and mononucleotides are exposed to cycles of dehydration and rehydration. The lipids concentrate and organize the monomers within multilamellar liquid-crystalline matrices that self-assemble in the dry state. The chemical potential driving the polymerization reaction is supplied by the anhydrous conditions in which water becomes a leaving group, with heat providing activation energy. Significantly, the polymeric products are encapsulated in trillions of microscopic compartments upon rehydration. Each compartment is unique in its composition and contents, and can be considered to be an experiment in a natural version of combinatorial chemistry that would be ubiquitous in the prebiotic environment. A successful experiment would be a compartment that captured polymers capable of catalyzing their own replication. If this can be reproduced in the laboratory, it would represent a significant step toward understanding the origin of cellular life.

David Deamer

David Deamer Department of Biomolecular Engineering
University of California
Santa Cruz CA 95064