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Prebiotic Amino Acid Thioester Synthesis: Thiol-Dependent Amino Acid Synthesis from Formose substrates (Formaldehyde and Glycolaldehyde) and AmmoniaFormaldehyde and glycolaldehyde (substrates of the formose autocatalytic cycle) were shown to react with ammonia yielding alanine and homoserine under mild aqueous conditions in the presence of thiol catalysts. Since similar reactions carried out without ammonia yielded alpha-hydroxy acid thioesters, the thiol-dependent synthesis of alanine and homoserine is presumed to occur via amino acid thioesters-intermediates capable of forming peptides. A pH 5.2 solution of 20 mM formaldehyde, 20 mM glycolaldehyde, 20 mM ammonium chloride, 23 mM 3-mercaptopropionic acid, and 23 mM acetic acid that reacted for 35 days at 40 C yielded (based on initial formaldehyde) 1.8% alanine and 0.08% homoserine. In the absence of thiol catalyst, the synthesis of alanine and homoserine was negligible. Alanine synthesis required both formaldehyde and glycolaldehyde, but homoserine synthesis required only glycolaldehyde. At 25 days the efficiency of alanine synthesis calculated from the ratio of alanine synthesized to formaldehyde reacted was 2.1%, and the yield (based on initial formaldehyde) of triose and tetrose intermediates involved in alanine and homoserine synthesis was 0.3 and 2.1%, respectively. Alanine synthesis was also seen in similar reactions containing only 10 mM each of aldehyde substrates, ammonia, and thiol. The prebiotic significance of these reactions that use the formose reaction to generate sugar intermediates that are converted to reactive amino acid thioesters is discussed.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Weber, Arthur L.
(Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Inst. Moffett Field, CA United States)
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1998
Publication Information
Publication: Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere
Publisher: Kluwer Academic Publishers
Volume: 28
Subject Category
Chemistry And Materials (General)
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits

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