Origin & Evolution of Life

Prebiotic Syntheses of Organophosphorus Compounds from Reduced Source of Phosphorus in Non-Aqueous Solvents

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
November 26, 2023
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Prebiotic Syntheses of Organophosphorus Compounds from Reduced Source of Phosphorus in Non-Aqueous Solvents
Reaction of choline chloride with IPF solution in UAFW (Reaction sample CH-UAFW-5). — Life

Reduced-oxidation-state phosphorus (reduced P, hereafter) compounds were likely available on the early Earth via meteorites or through various geologic processes.

Due to their reactivity and high solubility, these compounds could have played a significant role in the origin of various organophosphorus compounds of biochemical significance.

In the present work, we study the reactions between reduced P compounds and their oxidation products, with the three nucleosides (uridine, adenosine, and cytidine), with organic alcohols (glycerol and ethanolamine), and with the tertiary ammonium organic compound, choline chloride.

These reactions were studied in the non-aqueous solvent formamide and in a semi-aqueous solvent comprised of urea: ammonium formate: water (UAFW, hereafter) at temperatures of 55–68 °C. The inorganic P compounds generated through Fenton chemistry readily dissolve in the non-aqueous and semi-aqueous solvents and react with organics to form organophosphites and organophosphates, including those which are identified as phosphate diesters.

This dual approach (1) use of non-aqueous and semi-aqueous solvents and (2) use of a reactive inorganic P source to promote phosphorylation and phosphonylation reactions of organics readily promoted anhydrous chemistry and condensation reactions, without requiring any additive, catalyst, or other promoting agent under mild heating conditions.

We also present a comparative study of the release of P from various prebiotically relevant phosphate minerals and phosphite salts (e.g., vivianite, apatite, and phosphites of iron and calcium) into formamide and UAFW. These results have direct implications for the origin of biological P compounds from non-aqueous solvents of prebiotic provenance.

Maheen Gull, Tian Feng, Benjamin Smith, Laurent Calcul and Matthew A. Pasek
Life 2023, 13(11), 2134; DOI: 10.3390/life13112134

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