Metal ions strongly affect the self-assembly and stability of membranes composed of prebiotically relevant amphiphiles (protoamphiphiles). Therefore, evaluating the behavior of such amphiphiles in the presence of ions is a crucial step towards assessing their potential as model protocell compartments. We have recently reported vesicle formation by N-acyl amino acids (NAAs), an interesting class of protoamphiphiles containing an amino acid linked to a fatty acid via an amide linkage. Herein, we explore the effect of ions on the self-assembly and stability of model N-oleoyl glycine (NOG)-based membranes. Microscopic analysis showed that the blended membranes of NOG and Glycerol 1-monooleate (GMO) were more stable than pure NOG vesicles, both in the presence of monovalent and divalent cations, with the overall vesicle stability being 100-fold higher in the presence of a monovalent cation. Furthermore, both pure NOG and NOG + GMO mixed systems were able to self-assemble into vesicles in natural water samples containing multiple ions that were collected from active hot spring sites. Our study reveals that several aspects of the metal ion stability of NAA-based membranes are comparable to those of fatty acid-based systems, while also confirming the robustness of compositionally heterogeneous membranes towards high metal ion concentrations. Pertinently, the vesicle formation by NAA-based systems in terrestrial hot spring samples indicates the conduciveness of these low ionic strength freshwater systems for facilitating prebiotic membrane-assembly processes. This further highlights their potential to serve as a plausible niche for the emergence of cellular life on the early Earth.
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