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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Mar 31;95(7):3370-5.

Biochemical evolution. I. Polymerization On internal, organophilic silica surfaces of dealuminated zeolites and feldspars.

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1
Department of Geophysical Sciences and Center for Advanced Radiation Sources, 5734 S. Ellis Avenue, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.

Abstract

Catalysis at mineral surfaces might generate replicating biopolymers from simple chemicals supplied by meteorites, volcanic gases, and photochemical gas reactions. Many ideas are implausible in detail because the proposed mineral surfaces strongly prefer water and other ionic species to organic ones. The molecular sieve silicalite (Union Carbide; = Al-free Mobil ZSM-5 zeolite) has a three-dimensional, 10-ring channel system whose electrically neutral Si-O surface strongly adsorbs organic species over water. Three -O-Si tetrahedral bonds lie in the surface, and the fourth Si-O points inwards. In contrast, the outward Si-OH of simple quartz and feldspar crystals generates their ionic organophobicity. The ZSM-5-type zeolite mutinaite occurs in Antarctica with boggsite and tschernichite (Al-analog of Mobil Beta). Archean mutinaite might have become de-aluminated toward silicalite during hot/cold/wet/dry cycles. Catalytic activity of silicalite increases linearly with Al-OH substitution for Si, and Al atoms tend to avoid each other. Adjacent organophilic and catalytic Al-OH regions in nanometer channels might have scavenged organic species for catalytic assembly into specific polymers protected from prompt photochemical destruction. Polymer migration along weathered silicic surfaces of micrometer-wide channels of feldspars might have led to assembly of replicating catalytic biomolecules and perhaps primitive cellular organisms. Silica-rich volcanic glasses should have been abundant on the early Earth, ready for crystallization into zeolites and feldspars, as in present continental basins. Abundant chert from weakly metamorphosed Archaean rocks might retain microscopic clues to the proposed mineral adsorbent/catalysts. Other framework silicas are possible, including ones with laevo/dextro one-dimensional channels. Organic molecules, transition-metal ions, and P occur inside modern feldspars.

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