Silica Metal Oxide Vesicles Catalyze Comprehensive Prebiotic Chemistry

Mattia Bizzarri, B.; Botta, L.; Perez-Valverde, M. I.; Saladino, R.; Di Mauro, E.; Garcia-Ruiz, J. M., Silica Metal Oxide Vesicles Catalyze Comprehensive Prebiotic Chemistry. Chemistry (Weinheim an der Bergstrasse, Germany) 2018, 24 (32), 8126-8132.

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It has recently been demonstrated that mineral self‐assembled structures catalyzing prebiotic chemical reactions may form in natural waters derived from serpentinization, a geological process widespread in the early stages of Earth‐like planets. We have synthesized self‐assembled membranes by mixing microdrops of metal solutions with alkaline silicate solutions in the presence of formamide (NH2CHO), a single‐carbon molecule, at 80 °C. We found that these bilayer membranes, made of amorphous silica and metal oxide/hydroxide nanocrystals, catalyze the condensation of formamide, yielding the four nucleobases of RNA, three amino acids and, several carboxylic acids in a single‐pot experiment. Besides manganese, iron and magnesium, two abundant elements in the earliest Earth crust that are key in serpentinization reactions, are enough to produce all these biochemical compounds. These results suggest that the transition from inorganic geochemistry to prebiotic organic chemistry is common on a universal scale and, most probably, occurred earlier than ever thought for our planet.

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