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A simulation unveils the origin of the first biological molecules

04/04/2018

Inside cover ChemComm
Inside cover ChemComm

Researchers of the Institute for chemical-physical processes of the National research council of Messina in collaboration with the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic of Brno and the Sorbonne of Paris have carried out a numerical experiment, through advanced computational techniques, showing the chemical process which could have determined the primordial synthesis of erythrose, a direct precursor of ribose, the sugar that makes up RNA, thus shedding light on the origin of the first biological molecules and therefore on the beginning of life on Earth. The results have been published on Chemical Communications of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

One of the crucial pieces in the puzzle of the origin of life is the appearance of the first biological molecules on Earth like RNA, ribonucleic acid. A study of the Institute for chemical-physical processes of the National research council (Ipcf-Cnr) of Messina has described, through advanced numerical simulation techniques, a chemical process that from simple molecules present in enormous abundance in the Universe, as water and glycolaldehyde, may have led to the primordial synthesis of erythrose, a direct precursor of ribose, the sugar that makes up RNA. The study was published in the journal Chemical Communications, of the Royal Society of Chemistry, by a team that also involves the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic of Brno and the University of Paris Sorbonne.

In the study it is demonstrated for the first time that certain prebiotic conditions, typical of the so-called 'primordial pools', where the simplest inorganic molecules were present, are able to favor the formation not only of aminoacids, the fundamental building blocks of proteins, but also of some simple sugars like erythrose, precursor of the molecules that make up the RNA backbone. The synthesis of sugars from simpler molecules, which may have been transported to our planet by meteorites in primordial epochs, represents a major challenge for scientists who deal with prebiotic chemistry. The formation of the first carbon-carbon bonds from very simple molecules such as formaldehyde cannot occur without the presence of an external agent capable of catalyzing the reaction: the presence of such catalysts in prebiotic environments, however, is still a mystery.

The computational approach to prebiotic chemistry already in 2014 allowed the research team, with a study published on Pnas, to simulate the famous Miller experiment, i.e. the formation of amino acids from the inorganic molecules contained in the 'primordial broth' subjected to intense electric fields. In the experiment, using advanced numerical simulation methods to the super-computer, an aqueous solution of glycolaldehyde was subjected to electric fields of the order of magnitude of millions of volts per centimeter, capable of catalyzing that reaction which in chemistry is called formose reaction and      which leads to the formation of sugars. Today the computational approach to prebiotic chemistry is of crucial importance because it allows to analyze in a very specific way the molecular mechanisms of the chemical reactions underlying the processes that led to the formation of the molecules of life.

 

Rome, 04/04/2018

 

Profile

Who: Institute for chemical-physical processes of the National research council of Messina, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic of Brno and the Sorbonne of Paris

What: 'Synthesis of (D)-erythrose from glycolaldehyde aqueous solutions under electric field'; Chem. Commun., 2018, 54, 3211; DOI: 0.1039/c8cc00045j

Contacts: Franz Saija, Ipcf-Cnr e-mail: saija@ipcf.cnr.it, tel. 090/39762218, cell. 347/210 0191; Alessia Cosseddu, tel. 079/2841258, e-mail: alessia.cosseddu@cnr.it

Per informazioni:
Franz Saija
Ipcf-Cnr
saija@ipcf.cnr.it

Capo ufficio stampa:
Marco Ferrazzoli
marco.ferrazzoli@cnr.it
ufficiostampa@cnr.it
06 4993 3383
skype marco.ferrazzoli1