Albany 2013: Book of Abstracts

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

Prebiotic RNA Synthesis: Significance of Mineral Salts in Montmorillonite-catalyzed Reactions

The dual properties of RNA as an enzyme catalyst and its ability to store genetic information suggest that early life was based on RNA and DNA and protein evolved from it. Our lab has demonstrated synthesis of long RNA oligomers by Na+-montmorillonite catalyzed reactions of 5'-end activated mononucleotides (Joshi et al., 2009). The Na+-montmorillonite not only catalyzes the prebiotic synthesis of RNA but it also facilitates homochiral selection (Joshi et al., 2011, 2013). The montmorillonite-catalyzed reactions of 5’-phosphorimidazolide of adenosine were further investigated to study the effect of salts. These reactions were found to be dependent on the nature of mineral salts present. While montmorillonite (pH 7) produced only dimers in water, addition of sodium chloride (1M) enhanced the chain length of oligomers to 10-mers as detected by HPLC. Magnesium chloride produced a similar effect but the presence of both sodium chloride and magnesium chloride did not produce any difference in the oligomer chain length. The effect of monovalant cations in RNA synthesis was of the following order: Li+ > Na+ > K+. A similar effect was observed with the anions, enhancing catalysis in the following order: Cl- > Br- > I-. Inorganic salts that tend to salt out organic compounds from water and salts which show salt-in effects had no effect in the oligomerization process indicating that the montmorillonite-catalyzed RNA synthesis is not affected by hydrophobic or hydrophilic interactions. A 2.3 fold decrease in the yield of cyclic dimer was observed upon increasing the sodium chloride concentration from 0.2M to 2.0M. Inhibition of cyclic dimer formation is essential for increasing the yield of linear dimers as well as the overall chain length. The results of this study show that the presence of salts is essential in prebiotic RNA synthesis catalyzed by clay minerals.

This research has been supported by NASA Astrobiology Institute grant NNA09DA80A.


    P. C. Joshi, M. F. Aldersley & J. P. Ferris (2013) Progress in Demonstrating Homochiral selection in Prebiotic RNA Synthesis. Advances in Space Research 51, 772-779.

    P. C. Joshi, M. F. Aldersley & J. P. Ferris (2011) Homochiral selectivity in RNA synthesis on montmorillonite-catalyzed reactions of D, L-purine and pyrimidine nucleotides, Origins of Life and Evolution of Biosphere, 41, 213-236.

    P. C. Joshi, M. Aldersley, J. Delano & J. P. Ferris (2009) Mechanism of montmorillonite catalysis in the Formation of RNA oligomers. Journal of the American Chemical Society 131, 13369 - 13374.

Prakash C. Joshi*
Michael F. Aldersley
James P. Ferris

The New York Center for Astrobiology
Department of Chemistry
Chemical Biology
RPI, Troy, NY 12180

Ph: (518) 276-8494
Fax: (518) 276-4887