CRC 235 Emergence of Life

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Dynamic Exchange of Substituents in a Prebiotic Organocatalyst: Initial Steps towards an Evolutionary System

A. Closs 2021 Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.


Anna Closs, Maximilian Bechtel, Oliver Trapp

Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.


All evolutionary biological processes lead to a change in heritable traits over successive generations. The responsible genetic information encoded in DNA is altered, selected, and inherited by mutation of the base sequence. While this is well known at the biological level, an evolutionary change at the molecular level of small organic molecules is unknown but represents an important prerequisite for the emergence of life. Here, we present a class of prebiotic imidazolidine-4-thione organocatalysts able to dynamically change their constitution and potentially capable to form an evolutionary system. These catalysts functionalize their building blocks and dynamically adapt to their (self-modified) environment by mutation of their own structure. Depending on the surrounding conditions, they show pronounced and opposing selectivity in their formation. Remarkably, the preferentially formed species can be associated with different catalytic properties, which enable multiple pathways for the transition from abiotic matter to functional biomolecules.