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Life 2014, 4(3), 318-330; doi:10.3390/life4030318
Article

Prebiotic RNA Synthesis by Montmorillonite Catalysis

1
 and 2,*
Received: 24 December 2013; in revised form: 29 June 2014 / Accepted: 4 July 2014 / Published: 5 August 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Last Universal Common Ancestor)
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Abstract: This review summarizes our recent findings on the role of mineral salts in prebiotic RNA synthesis, which is catalyzed by montmorillonite clay minerals. The clay minerals not only catalyze the synthesis of RNA but also facilitate homochiral selection. Preliminary data of these findings have been presented at the “Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA)” conference at the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK, 5–6 September 2013. The objective of this meeting was to recognize the significance of RNA in LUCA. We believe that the prebiotic RNA synthesis from its monomers must have been a simple process. As a first step, it may have required activation of the 5'-end of the mononucleotide with a leaving group, e.g., imidazole in our model reaction (Figure 1). Wide ranges of activating groups are produced from HCN under plausible prebiotic Earth conditions. The final step is clay mineral catalysis in the presence of mineral salts to facilitate selective production of functional RNA. Both the clay minerals and mineral salts would have been abundant on early Earth. We have demonstrated that while montmorillonite (pH 7) produced only dimers from its monomers in water, addition of sodium chloride (1 M) enhanced the chain length multifold, as detected by HPLC. The effect of monovalent cations on RNA synthesis was of the following order: Li+ > Na+ > K+. A similar effect was observed with the anions, enhancing catalysis in the following order: Cl > Br > I. The montmorillonite-catalyzed RNA synthesis was not affected by hydrophobic or hydrophilic interactions. We thus show that prebiotic synthesis of RNA from its monomers was a simple process requiring only clay minerals and a small amount of salt.
Keywords: catalysis; chirality; mineral salt effect; montmorillonite; prebiotic chemistry; RNA catalysis; chirality; mineral salt effect; montmorillonite; prebiotic chemistry; RNA
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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MDPI and ACS Style

Jheeta, S.; Joshi, P.C. Prebiotic RNA Synthesis by Montmorillonite Catalysis. Life 2014, 4, 318-330.

AMA Style

Jheeta S, Joshi PC. Prebiotic RNA Synthesis by Montmorillonite Catalysis. Life. 2014; 4(3):318-330.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Jheeta, Sohan; Joshi, Prakash C. 2014. "Prebiotic RNA Synthesis by Montmorillonite Catalysis." Life 4, no. 3: 318-330.

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