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J Am Chem Soc. 2003 Nov 12;125(45):13734-40.

Eutectic phase polymerization of activated ribonucleotide mixtures yields quasi-equimolar incorporation of purine and pyrimidine nucleobases.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA.


The RNA world hypothesis requires a plausible mechanism by which RNA itself (or precursor RNA-like polymers) can be synthesized nonenzymatically from the corresponding building blocks. Simulation experiments have exploited chemically reactive mononucleotides as monomers. Solutions of such monomers in the prebiotic environment were likely to be very dilute, but in experimental simulations of polymerization reactions dilute solutions of activated mononucleotides in the millimolar range hydrolyze extensively, and only trace amounts of dimers and trimers are formed. We report here that random medium-size RNA analogues with mixed sequences (5- to 17-mers with traces of longer products) can be synthesized in ice eutectic phases that are produced when dilute solutions of activated monomers and catalysts (Mg(II) and Pb(II)) are frozen and maintained at -18 degrees C for periods up to 38 days. Under these conditions, the monomers are concentrated as eutectics in an ice matrix. Hydrolysis of the activated mononucleotides was suppressed at low-temperature ranges, and polymerization was enhanced with yields up to 90%. Analysis of the mixed oligomers established that incorporation of both purine and pyrimidine bases proceeded at comparable rates and yields. These results suggest that ice deposits on the early Earth could have facilitated the synthesis of short- and medium-size random sequence RNA analogues and thereby provided a microenvironment suitable for the formation of biopolymers or their precursors.

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