NTRS - NASA Technical Reports Server

Back to Results
Chemical constraints governing the origin of metabolism: the thermodynamic landscape of carbon group transformations under mild aqueous conditionsThe thermodynamics of organic chemistry under mild aqueous conditions was examined in order to begin to understand its influence on the structure and operation of metabolism and its antecedents. Free energies (deltaG) were estimated for four types of reactions of biochemical importance carbon-carbon bond cleavage and synthesis, hydrogen transfer between carbon groups, dehydration of alcohol groups, and aldo-keto isomerization. The energies were calculated for mainly aliphatic groups composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The energy values showed (1) that generally when carbon-carbon bond cleavage involves groups from different functional group classes (i.e., carboxylic acids, carbonyl groups, alcohols, and hydrocarbons), the transfer of the shared electron-pair to the more reduced carbon group is energetically favored over transfer to the more oxidized carbon group, and (2) that the energy of carbon-carbon bond transformation is primarily determined by the functional group class of the group that changes oxidation state in the reaction (i.e., the functional group class of the group that donates the shared electron-pair during cleavage, or that accepts the incipient shared electron-pair during synthesis). In contrast, the energy of hydrogen transfer between carbon groups is determined by the functional group class of both the hydrogen-donor group and the hydrogen-acceptor group. From these and other observations we concluded that the chemistry involved in the origin of metabolism (and to a lesser degree modern metabolism) was strongly constrained by (1) the limited redox-based transformation energy of organic substrates that is readily dissipated in a few energetically favorable irreversible reactions; (2) the energy dominance of a few transformation half-reactions that determines whether carbon-carbon bond transformation (cleavage or synthesis) is energetically favorable (deltaG < -3.5 kcal/mol), reversible (deltaG between +/-3.5 kcal/mol), or unfavorable (deltaG > +3.5 kcal/mol); and (3) the dependence of carbon group transformation energy on the functional group class (i.e., oxidation state) of participating groups that in turn is contingent on prior reactions and precursors in the synthetic pathway.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
External Source(s)
Weber, Arthur L. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field CA United States)
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
August 1, 2002
Publication Information
Publication: Origins of life and evolution of the biosphere : the journal of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life
Volume: 32
Issue: 4
ISSN: 0169-6149
Subject Category
Life Sciences (General)
Distribution Limits