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Wet-Dry Cycling Delays the Gelation of Hyperbranched Polyesters: Implications to the Origin of Life

Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Meguro, Tokyo 152-8550, Japan
Received: 7 May 2019 / Revised: 11 June 2019 / Accepted: 28 June 2019 / Published: 1 July 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Astrobiology)
In extant biology, biopolymers perform multiple crucial functions. The biopolymers are synthesized by enzyme-controlled biosystems that would not have been available at the earliest stages of chemical evolution and consist of correctly sequenced and/or linked monomers. Some of the abiotic “messy” polymers approximate some functions of biopolymers. Condensation polymers are an attractive search target for abiotic functional polymers since principal polymers of life are produced by condensation and since condensation allows for the accurate construction of high polymers. Herein the formation of hyperbranched polyesters that have been previously used in the construction of enzyme-like catalytic complexes is explored. The experimental setup compares between the branched polyesters prepared under mild continuous heating and the wet-dry cycling associated with environmental conditions, such as dew formation or tidal activities. The results reveal that periodic wetting during which partial hydrolysis of the polyester occurs, helps to control the chain growth and delays the gel transition, a mechanism contributing to the tar formation. Moreover, the NMR and mass spec analyses indicate that continuously dried samples contain higher quantities of crosslinked and macrocyclic products, whereas cycled systems are enriched in branched structures. Ostensibly, environmental conditions have the ability to exert a rudimentary pressure to selectively enrich the polyesterification products in polymers of different structures and properties. At the early stages of chemical evolution, in the absence of biological machinery, this example of environmental control could have been for selectivity in chemical systems. As expected in marginally controlled systems, the identification of each component of the heterogeneous system has proved challenging, but it is not crucial for drawing the conclusions. View Full-Text
Keywords: hyperbranched polyester; functional polymer; chemical evolution; wet-dry cycle; gelation prevention; condensation polymer; origin of life hyperbranched polyester; functional polymer; chemical evolution; wet-dry cycle; gelation prevention; condensation polymer; origin of life
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Mamajanov, I. Wet-Dry Cycling Delays the Gelation of Hyperbranched Polyesters: Implications to the Origin of Life. Life 2019, 9, 56.

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Life, EISSN 2075-1729, Published by MDPI AG
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