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J Chem Educ. 2011 Dec 1;88(12):1698-1701. Epub 2011 Oct 17.

Adenine Synthesis in a Model Prebiotic Reaction: Connecting Origin of Life Chemistry with Biology.


Many high school laboratory experiments demonstrate concepts related to biological evolution, but few exist that allow students to investigate life's chemical origins. This series of laboratory experiments has been developed to allow students to explore and appreciate the deep connection that exists between prebiotic chemistry, chemical evolution, and contemporary biological systems. In the first experiment of the series, students synthesize adenine, one of the purine nucleobases of DNA and RNA, from plausibly prebiotic precursor molecules. Students compare their product to authentic standards using thin-layer chromatography. The second and third experiments of the series allow students to extract DNA from a familiar organism, the strawberry, and hydrolyze it, releasing adenine, which they can then compare to the previously chemically-synthesized adenine. A fourth, optional experiment is included where the technique of thin-layer chromatography is introduced and chromatographic skills are developed for use in the other three experiments that comprise this series. Concepts relating to organic and analytical chemistry, as well as biochemistry and DNA structure, are incorporated throughout, allowing this series of laboratory experiments to be easily inserted into existing laboratory courses and to reinforce concepts already included in any high school chemistry or biology curriculum.

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