Publications

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2014
Parker, ET, Zhou MS, Burton AS, Glavin DP, Dworkin JP, Krishnamurthy R, Fernandez FM, Bada JL.  2014.  A plausible simultaneous synthesis of amino acids and simple peptides on the primordial earth. Angewandte Chemie-International Edition. 53:8132-8136.   10.1002/anie.201403683   AbstractWebsite

Following his seminal work in 1953, Stanley Miller conducted an experiment in 1958 to study the polymerization of amino acids under simulated early Earth conditions. In the experiment, Miller sparked a gas mixture of CH4, NH3, and H2O, while intermittently adding the plausible prebiotic condensing reagent cyanamide. For unknown reasons, an analysis of the samples was not reported. We analyzed the archived samples for amino acids, dipeptides, and diketopiperazines by liquid chromatography, ion mobility spectrometry, and mass spectrometry. A dozen amino acids, 10 glycine-containing dipeptides, and 3 glycine-containing diketopiperazines were detected. Miller's experiment was repeated and similar polymerization products were observed. Aqueous heating experiments indicate that Strecker synthesis intermediates play a key role in facilitating polymerization. These results highlight the potential importance of condensing reagents in generating diversity within the prebiotic chemical inventory.

2011
Parker, ET, Cleaves HJ, Callahan MP, Dworkin JP, Glavin DP, Lazcano A, Bada JL.  2011.  Prebiotic Synthesis of Methionine and Other Sulfur-Containing Organic Compounds on the Primitive Earth: A Contemporary Reassessment Based on an Unpublished 1958 Stanley Miller Experiment. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres. 41:201-212.   10.1007/s11084-010-9228-8   AbstractWebsite

Original extracts from an unpublished 1958 experiment conducted by the late Stanley L. Miller were recently found and analyzed using modern state-of-the-art analytical methods. The extracts were produced by the action of an electric discharge on a mixture of methane (CH(4)), hydrogen sulfide (H(2)S), ammonia (NH(3)), and carbon dioxide (CO(2)). Racemic methionine was formed in significant yields, together with other sulfur-bearing organic compounds. The formation of methionine and other compounds from a model prebiotic atmosphere that contained H(2)S suggests that this type of synthesis is robust under reducing conditions, which may have existed either in the global primitive atmosphere or in localized volcanic environments on the early Earth. The presence of a wide array of sulfur-containing organic compounds produced by the decomposition of methionine and cysteine indicates that in addition to abiotic synthetic processes, degradation of organic compounds on the primordial Earth could have been important in diversifying the inventory of molecules of biochemical significance not readily formed from other abiotic reactions, or derived from extraterrestrial delivery.

Rivas, M, Becerra A, Pereto J, Bada JL, Lazcano A.  2011.  Metalloproteins and the Pyrite-based Origin of Life: A Critical Assessment. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres. 41:347-356.   10.1007/s11084-011-9238-1   AbstractWebsite

We critically examine the proposal by W chtersh user (Prokaryotes 1: 275-283, 2006a, Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 361: 787-1808, 2006b) that putative transition metal binding sites in protein components of the translation machinery of hyper-thermophiles provide evidence of a direct relationship with the FeS clusters of pyrite and thus indicate an autotrophic origin of life in volcanic environments. Analysis of completely sequenced cellular genomes of Bacteria, Archaea and Eucarya does not support the suggestion by W chtersh user (Prokaryotes 1: 275-283, 2006a, Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 361: 787-1808, 2006b) that aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases and ribosomal proteins bear sequence signatures typical of strong covalent metal bonding whose absence in mesophilic species reveals a process of adaptation towards less extreme environments.

2008
Cleaves, HJ, Chalmers JH, Lazcano A, Miller SL, Bada JL.  2008.  A reassessment of prebiotic organic synthesis in neutral planetary atmospheres. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres. 38:105-115.   10.1007/s11084-007-9120-3   AbstractWebsite

The action of an electric discharge on reduced gas mixtures such as H(2)O, CH(4) and NH(3) (or N(2)) results in the production of several biologically important organic compounds including amino acids. However, it is now generally held that the early Earth's atmosphere was likely not reducing, but was dominated by N(2) and CO(2). The synthesis of organic compounds by the action of electric discharges on neutral gas mixtures has been shown to be much less efficient. We show here that contrary to previous reports, significant amounts of amino acids are produced from neutral gas mixtures. The low yields previously reported appear to be the outcome of oxidation of the organic compounds during hydrolytic workup by nitrite and nitrate produced in the reactions. The yield of amino acids is greatly increased when oxidation inhibitors, such as ferrous iron, are added prior to hydrolysis. Organic synthesis from neutral atmospheres may have depended on the oceanic availability of oxidation inhibitors as well as on the nature of the primitive atmosphere itself. The results reported here suggest that endogenous synthesis from neutral atmospheres may be more important than previously thought.

2004
Bada, JL.  2004.  How life began on Earth: a status report. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 226:1-15.   10.1016/j.epsl.2004.07.036   AbstractWebsite

There are two fundamental requirements for life as we know it, liquid water and organic polymers, such as nucleic acids and proteins. Water provides the medium for chemical reactions and the polymers carry out the central biological functions of replication and catalysis. During the accretionary phase of the Earth, high surface temperatures would have made the presence of liquid water and an extensive organic carbon reservoir unlikely. As the Earth's surface cooled, water and simple organic compounds, derived from a variety of sources, would have begun to accumulate. This set the stage for the process of chemical evolution to begin in which one of the central facets was the synthesis of biologically important polymers, some of which had a variety of simple catalytic functions. Increasingly complex macromolecules were produced and eventually molecules with the ability to catalyze their own imperfect replication appeared. Thus began the processes of multiplication, heredity and variation, and this marked the point of both the origin of life and evolution. Once simple self-replicating entities originated, they evolved first into the RNA World and eventually to the DNA/Protein World, which had all the attributes of modern biology. If the basic components water and organic polymers were, or are, present on other bodies in our solar system and beyond, it is reasonable to assume that a similar series of steps that gave rise of life on Earth could occur elsewhere. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

2002
Botta, O, Glavin DP, Kminek G, Bada JL.  2002.  Relative amino acid concentrations as a signature for parent body processes of carbonaceous chondrites. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres. 32:143-163.   10.1023/a:1016019425995   AbstractWebsite

Most meteorites are thought to have originated from objects in the asteroid belt. Carbonaceous chondrites, which contain significant amounts of organic carbon including complex organic compounds, have also been suggested to be derived from comets. The current model for the synthesis of organic compounds found in carbonaceous chondrites includes the survival of interstellar organic compounds and the processing of some of these compounds on the meteoritic parent body. The amino acid composition of five CM carbonaceous chondrites, two CIs, one CR, and one CV3 have been measured using hot water extraction-vapor hydrolysis, OPA/NAC derivatization and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Total amino acid abundances in the bulk meteorites as well as the amino acid concentrations relative to glycine = 1.0 for beta-alanine, alpha-aminoisobutyric acid and D-alanine were determined. Additional data for three Antarctic CM meteorites were obtained from the literature. All CM meteorites analyzed in this study show a complex distribution of amino acids and a high variability in total concentration ranging from similar to15 300 to similar to5800 parts per billion (ppb), while the CIs show a total amino acid abundance of similar to4300 ppb. The relatively (compared to glycine) high AIB content found in all the CMs is a strong indicator that Strecker-cyanohydrin synthesis is the dominant pathway for the formation of amino acids found in these meteorites. The data from the Antarctic CM carbonaceous chondrites are inconsistent with the results from the other CMs, perhaps due to influences from the Antarctic ice that were effective during their residence time. In contrast to CMs, the data from the CI carbonaceous chondrites indicate that the Strecker synthesis was not active on their parent bodies.

1995
Keefe, AD, Miller SL, McDonald G, Bada J.  1995.  Investigation of the Prebiotic Synthesis of Amino-Acids and Rna Bases from Co2 Using Fes/H2s as a Reducing Agent. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 92:11904-11906.   10.1073/pnas.92.25.11904   AbstractWebsite

An autotrophic theory of the origin of metabolism and life has been proposed in which carbon dioxide is reduced by ferrous sulfide and hydrogen sulfide by means of a reversed citric acid cycle, leading to the production of amino acids. Similar processes hale been proposed for purine synthesis. Ferrous sulfide is a strong reducing agent in the presence of hydrogen sulfide and can produce hydrogen as web as reduce alkenes, alkynes, and thiols to saturated hydrocarbons and reduce ketones to thiols. However, the reduction of carbon dioxide has not been demonstrated. We show here that no amino acids, purines, or pyrimidines are produced from carbon dioxide with the ferrous sulfide and hydrogen sulfide system. Furthermore, this system does not produce amino acids from carboxylic acids by reductive amination and carboxylation. Thus, the proposed autotrophic theory, using carbon dioxide, ferrous sulfide, and hydrogen sulfide, lacks the robustness needed to be a geological process and is, therefore, unlikely to have played a role in the origin of metabolism or the origin of life.

1994
Bada, JL, Bigham C, Miller SL.  1994.  Impact Melting of Frozen Oceans on the Early Earth - Implications for the Origin of Life. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 91:1248-1250.   10.1073/pnas.91.4.1248   AbstractWebsite

Without sufficient greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the early Earth would have become a permanently frozen planet because the young Sun was less luminous than it is today. Several resolutions to this faint young Sun-frozen Earth paradox have been proposed, with an atmosphere rich in CO2 being the one generally favored. However, these models assume that there were no mechanisms for melting a once frozen ocean. Here we show that bolide impacts between about 3.6 and 4.0 billion years ago could have episodically melted an ice-covered early ocean. Thaw-freeze cycles associated with bolide impacts could have been important for the initiation of abiotic reactions that gave rise to the first living organisms.