CRC 235 Emergence of Life

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Formation, stabilization and fate of acetaldehyde and higher aldehydes in an autonomously changing prebiotic system emerging from acetylene

P. Diederich 2023 Commun Chem


Philippe Diederich, Thomas Geisberger, Yingfei Yan, Christian Seitz, Alexander Ruf, Claudia Huber, Norbert Hertkorn & Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin

Communications Chemistry


Many essential building blocks of life, including amino acids, sugars, and nucleosides, require aldehydes for prebiotic synthesis. Pathways for their formation under early earth conditions are therefore of great importance. We investigated the formation of aldehydes by an experimental simulation of primordial early earth conditions, in line with the metal-sulfur world theory in an acetylene-containing atmosphere. We describe a pH-driven, intrinsically autoregulatory environment that concentrates acetaldehyde and other higher molecular weight aldehydes. We demonstrate that acetaldehyde is rapidly formed from acetylene over a nickel sulfide catalyst in an aqueous solution, followed by sequential reactions progressively increasing the molecular diversity and complexity of the reaction mixture. Interestingly, through inherent pH changes, the evolution of this complex matrix leads to auto-stabilization of de novo synthesized aldehydes and alters the subsequent synthesis of relevant biomolecules rather than yielding uncontrolled polymerization products. Our results emphasize the impact of progressively generated compounds on the overall reaction conditions and strengthen the role of acetylene in forming essential building blocks that are fundamental for the emergence of terrestrial life.