Redox Energy and Sulfur Chemistry in Prebiotic Polymer Synthesis and Replication

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Redox Energy and Sulfur Chemistry in Prebiotic Polymer Synthesis and Replication

Publication Date
Jan 01, 1997
SETI Institute


In the past year we have made significant progress in three research areas: (1) Most importantly, we discovered a new pathway of prebiotic amino acid synthesis in which formaldehyde and glycolaldehyde (substrates of the formose reaction) react with ammonia yielding alanine and homoserine in the presence of thiol catalysts. This 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. (2) Finally, in preparation for the analysis of Martian meteorite samples, we upgraded our HPLC system and developed an improved method capable of detecting a I femtomole of amino acid enantiomers. (3) We completed our analysis of the energetics of metabolism that revealed that life depends on biosynthetic processes driven by chemical energy made available by the redox disproportionation of carbon groups of sugars. We established that the favorable energy of redox disproportionation is based on the universal reduction potentials of carbon groups. We concluded that it is hard to imagine any other organic molecule besides sugars (formaldehyde oligomers) having the energy and reactivity needed to drive either modem biosynthesis or the chemical processes behind its origin.

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