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Insights Into the Origin of Life: Did It Begin from HCN and H2O?

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posted on 07.08.2019 by Tamal Das, Siddharth Ghule, Kumar Vanka
The seminal Urey–Miller experiments showed that molecules crucial to life such as HCN could have formed in the reducing atmosphere of the Hadean Earth and then dissolved in the oceans. Subsequent proponents of the “RNA World” hypothesis have shown aqueous HCN to be the starting point for the formation of the precursors of RNA and proteins. However, the conditions of early Earth suggest that aqueous HCN would have had to react under a significant number of constraints. Therefore, given the limiting conditions, could RNA and protein precursors still have formed from aqueous HCN? If so, what mechanistic routes would have been followed? The current computational study, with the aid of the ab initio nanoreactor (AINR), a powerful new tool in computational chemistry, addresses these crucial questions. Gratifyingly, not only do the results from the AINR approach show that aqueous HCN could indeed have been the source of RNA and protein precursors, but they also indicate that just the interaction of HCN with water would have sufficed to begin a series of reactions leading to the precursors. The current work therefore provides important missing links in the story of prebiotic chemistry and charts the road from aqueous HCN to the precursors of RNA and proteins.

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