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J Mol Evol. 1975 Dec 29;6(4):253-70.

On the possible role of organic melanoidin polymers as matrices for prebiotic activity.


One of the major diagenetic pathways of organic matter in recent sediments involves the condensation of cellular constituents, particularly amino acids and sugars, into insoluble melanoidin-type polymers. These polymers consist mainly of humic and fulvic acids and make up the major part of the organic carbon reservoir in recent sediments. We suggest that a similar set of reactions between abiotically formed amino acids and sugars, and more generally between aldehydes and amines, occurred on a large scale in the prebiotic hydrosphere. The rapid formation of this insoluble polymeric material would have removed the bulk of the dissolved organic carbon from the primitive oceans and would thus have prevented the formation of an "organic soup". Melanoidin polymers have several properties which make them attractive hypothetical precursors of contemporary oxidation-reduction coenzymes: 1. they contain heterocyclic nitrogen compounds similar to the nitrogenous bases; 2. they contain a high concentration of stable free radicals; and 3. they tend to concentrate those heavy metals which play prominent roles in contemporary enzymic redox processes. The prebiotic formation of similar polymers could, therefore, have provided the starting point for a basic class of biochemical reactions. We suggest that the prebiotic scenario involved chemical and protoenzymic reactions at the sediment-ocean interface in relatively shallow waters and under conditions not much different from those of the recent environment.

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