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Astrobiology. 2001 Fall;1(3):271-81.

Eutectic phases in ice facilitate nonenzymatic nucleic acid synthesis.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, USA.


Polymeric compounds similar to oligonucleotides are relevant to the origin of life and particularly to the concept of an RNA world. Although short oligomers of RNA can be synthesized nonenzymatically under laboratory conditions by second-order reactions in concentrated solutions, there is no consensus on how these polymers could have been synthesized de novo on the early Earth from dilute solutions of monomers. To address this question in the context of an RNA world, we have explored ice eutectic phases as a reaction medium. When an aqueous solution freezes, the solutes become concentrated in the spaces between the ice crystals. The increased concentration offsets the effect of the lower temperature and accelerates the reaction. Here we show that in the presence of metal ions in dilute solutions, frozen samples of phosphoimidazolide-activated uridine react within days at -18 degrees C to form oligouridylates up to 11 bases long. Product yields typically exceed 90%, and approximately 30% of the oligomers include one or more 3'-5' linkages. These conditions facilitate not only the notoriously difficult oligouridylate synthesis, but also the oligomerization of activated cytidylate, adenylate, and guanylate. To our knowledge, this represents the first report to indicate that ice matrices on the early Earth may have accelerated certain prebiotic polymerization reactions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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