LA JOLLA, CA January 31, 2012 For decades, chemists considered a chemical pathway known as the formose reaction the only route for producing sugars essential for life to begin, but more recent research has called into question the plausibility of such thinking. Now a group from The Scripps Research Institute has proven an alternative pathway to those sugars called the glyoxylate scenario, which may push the field of pre-life chemistry past the formose reaction hurdle.
The team is reporting the results of their highly successful experiments online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
"We were working in uncharted territory," says Ramanarayanan ("Ram") Krishnamurthy, a Scripps Research chemist who led the research, "We didn't know what to expect but the glyoxylate scenario with respect to formation of carbohydrates is not a hypothesis anymore, it's an experimental fact."
The quest to recreate the chemistry that might have allowed life to emerge on a prehistoric Earth began in earnest in the 1950s. Since that time researchers have focused on a chemical path known as the formose reaction as a potential route from the simple, small molecules that might have been present on the Earth before life began to the complex sugars essential to life, at least life as we know it now.
The formose reaction begins with formaldehyde, thought to be a plausible constituent of a prebiotic world, going through a series of chemical transformation leading to simple and then more complex sugars, including ribose, which is a key building block in DNA and RNA.
But as chemists continued to study the formose reaction they realized that the chemistry involved is quite messy, producing lots of sugars with no apparent biological use and only the tiniest bit of ribose. As such experimental results mounted, the plausibility of the formose reaction as the prebiotic sugar builder came into question. But the probl
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Scripps Research Institute