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"Sea Water" Supplemented with Calcium Phosphate and Magnesium Sulfate in a Long-Term Miller-Type Experiment Yields Sugars, Nucleic Acids Bases, Nucleosides, Lipids, Amino Acids, and Oligopeptides.

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Root-Bernstein, Robert  ORCID logo
Rhinesmith, Tyler 
Huber, Jack 


The standard approach to exploring prebiotic chemistry is to use a small number of highly purified reactants and to attempt to optimize the conditions required to produce a particular end product. However, purified reactants do not exist in nature. We have previously proposed that what drives prebiotic evolution are complex chemical ecologies. Therefore, we have begun to explore what happens if one substitutes "sea water", with its complex mix of minerals and salts, for distilled water in the classic Miller experiment. We have also adapted the apparatus to permit it to be regassed at regular intervals so as to maintain a relatively constant supply of methane, hydrogen, and ammonia. The "sea water" used in the experiments was created from Mediterranean Sea salt with the addition of calcium phosphate and magnesium sulfate. Tests included several types of mass spectrometry, an ATP-monitoring device capable of measuring femtomoles of ATP, and a high-sensitivity cAMP enzyme-linked immunoadsorption assay. As expected, amino acids appeared within a few days of the start of the experiment and accumulated thereafter. Sugars, including glucose and ribose, followed as did long-chain fatty acids (up to C20). At three-to-five weeks after starting the experiment, ATP was repeatedly detected. Thus, we have shown that it is possible to produce a "one-pot synthesis" of most of the key chemical prerequisites for living systems within weeks by mimicking more closely the complexity of real-world chemical ecologies.


Peer reviewed: True


ATP, amino acids, cAMP, chemical ecology, fatty acids, minerals, peptides, prebiotic chemistry, sea water, steroids, sugars, “dirty experiments”

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Life (Basel)

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National Science Foundation (DRL-1212365)