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Orig Life Evol Biosph. 2003 Feb;33(1):1-16.

Cations as mediators of the adsorption of nucleic acids on clay surfaces in prebiotic environments.

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Department of Animal Biology and Genetics, University of Florence, Italy.


Monovalent ([Na+] > 10 mM) and divalent ([Ca2+], [Mg2+] > 1.0 mM) cations induced the precipitation of nucleic acid molecules. In the presence of clay minerals (montmorillonite and kaolinite), there was adsorption instead of precipitation. The cation concentration needed for adsorption depended on both the valence of the cations and the chemical nature of the nucleic acid molecules. Double-stranded nucleic acids needed higher cation concentrations than single-stranded ones to be adsorbed to the same extent on clay. Divalent cations were more efficient than monovalent ones in mediating adsorption. Adsorption to the clay occurred only when both nucleic acids and cations were present. However, once the complexes were formed, the cations could not be removed from the system by washing, indicating that they are directly involved in the association between nucleic acids and mineral surfaces. These observations indicate that cations take part directly in the formation of nucleic acid-clay complexes, acting as a 'bridge' between the negative charges on the mineral surface and those of the phosphate groups of the genetic polymer. The relatively low cation concentrations needed for adsorption and the ubiquitous presence of clay minerals in the environment suggest that the adsorption of nucleic acids on mineral surfaces could have taken place in prebiotic habitats. This may have played an important role in the formation and preservation of nucleic acids and/or their precursor polymers.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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