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Nature. 1995 Nov 30;378(6556):474-7.

A plausibly prebiotic synthesis of phosphonic acids.

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Faculty of Science, University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


The insolubility of calcium phosphate in water is a significant stumbling block in the chemistry required for the origin of life. The discovery of alkyl phosphonic acids in the Murchison meteorite suggests the possibility of delivery of these water-soluble, phosphorus-containing molecules by meteorites or comets to the early Earth. This could have provided a supply of organic phosphorus for the earliest stages of chemical evolution; although probably not components of early genetic systems, phosphonic acids may have been precursors to the first nucleic acids. Here we report the synthesis of several phosphonic acids, including the most abundant found in the Murchison meteorite, by ultraviolet irradiation of orthophosphorous acid in the presence of formaldehyde, primary alcohols, or acetone. We argue that similar reactions might explain the presence of phosphonic acids in Murchison, and could also have occurred on the prebiotic Earth.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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