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Prebiotic phosphorylation enabled by microdroplets

  1. Veronica Vaidaa,b,1
  1. aDepartment of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309;
  2. bCooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309

The significant acceleration of reactions in confined environments has recently been reported in the literature (1?????7). The reaction environments investigated span a diverse range, including charged microdroplets (1?3), microdiameter emulsions (5), inverted micelles (8), and the surfaces of aerosol particles (9). These experimental results have made the case that the surface of aqueous drops provides a special and unique reaction environment with qualitatively different thermodynamic and kinetic properties from bulk aqueous solutions. In PNAS, Nam et al. (7) report on a compelling application of accelerated reactions in aqueous microdroplets to chemistry that may have occurred prebiotically, in the absence of enzymes. They specifically address the abiotic production of sugar phosphates and uridine ribonucleoside in microdroplets, reactions that do not occur in bulk aqueous solutions. In biology, these reactions are enzyme-catalyzed. Investigations of reactions in confined aqueous environments are especially compelling in prebiotic chemistry, where nonenzymatic pathways must be found to explain the abiotic formation of biopolymers that can be used as building blocks of life (10?12). It has long been appreciated that phosphorus is important in life (13), yet abiotic phosphorylation remains an area of intense recent activity (14). The contribution of Nam et al. (7) provides a possible route for the formation of prebiotically plausible sugar phosphate in aqueous microdrops.

The experiments reported in the literature have used laboratory model systems to show different chemistry at aqueous interfaces than in bulk solutions; however, these model systems have counterparts in the natural environment (10, 15). Therefore, the thermodynamic and kinetic arguments emerging from laboratory model studies can be generalized. On the contemporary and early Earth, aqueous microdroplets …

?1Email: vaida{at}colorado.edu.

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