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J Mol Evol. 1997 Mar;44(3):237-41.

Reactive Phosphonic Acids as Prebiotic Carriers of Phosphorus

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Evolutionary Biology Research Group, Faculty of Science, University of Nijmegen, Toernooiveld 1, 6525 ED Nijmegen, The Netherlands


Phosphonic acids are the only phosphorus-containing organic compounds detected in the Murchison meteorite. We earlier described the synthesis of methyl-, hydroxymethyl-, and 1-hydroxyethyl phosphonic acids using sodium phosphite as a source of phosphite radicals. We now show that ultraviolet irradiation of dilute aqueous solutions of acetylene in the presence of sodium phosphite leads to the synthesis of vinyl phosphonic acid. At neutral to basic pH, vinyl phosphonic acid reacts under photochemical conditions to produce phosphonoacetaldehyde and 2-hydroxyethyl phosphonic acid as the major products, as well as smaller yields of 1-hydroxyethyl phosphonic acid, phosphonoacetic acid, and ethyl phosphonic acid. Of these products, phosphonoacetaldehyde is particularly interesting as a potential precursor of prebiotic carbohydrate derivatives.


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