Prebiotic Polymer Synthesis and the Origin of Glycolytic Metabolism

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Prebiotic Polymer Synthesis and the Origin of Glycolytic Metabolism

Authors
Type
Report
Publication Date
Jan 01, 1998
Source
SETI Institute
License
Green

Abstract

Our research resulted in several discoveries which contributed to understanding the origin and operation of life. (1) Most importantly, we discovered a new pathway of prebiotic amino acid synthesis in which formaldehyde and glycolaldehyde (formose reaction substrates) react with ammonia to give alanine and homoserine in the presence of thiol catalysts. The thiol-dependent synthesis of amino acids undoubtedly occurs via amino acid thioester intermediates capable of forming peptides. This one-pot reaction system operates under mild aqueous conditions, and like modern amino acid biosynthesis, uses sugar intermediates which are converted to amino acids by energy-yielding redox disproportionation. Preliminary evidence suggests that this type of process can be "evolved" by a serial transfer methods that lead to enrichment of autocatalytic molecules. (2) We established that prebiotic peptide polymers can be made by condensation of amino acid thioesters (homocysteine thiolactone and S-(N-beta-orotidyl- diaminopropionic acid) ethanethiol), and that prebiotic polydisulfide polymers can be generated by oxidation of dithiols with iron(III) in minerals. (3) In our analysis of metabolism we discovered the primary energy source of biosynthesis — chemical energy made available by the redox disproportionation of substrate carbon groups. We concluded that the energy and reactivity of sugars make them the optimal substrate for the origin and operation of terrestrial (or extraterrestrial) life. (4) Since it is likely that the use of optimal sugar substrates in biosynthesis sets the average oxidation number of functional biocarbon throughout the Universe near 0.0 (the reduction level of formaldehyde), we proposed that a line(s) in the microwave spectrum of formaldehyde could be rationally selected as a frequency for interstellar communication that symbolizes life. (5) Finally, in preparation for the analysis of Martian meteorite samples, we upgraded our HPLC system to one femtomole sensitivity, and developed a new electrophoretic method of sample preparation for HPLC analysis of the meteoritic amino acids. In a sample of the KT boundary layer from Sussex Wyoming, we found about 300 picomoles per gram of meteoritic alpha-aminoisobutyric acid per gram of KT layer.

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