Jan 1, 1984

The prebiotic synthesis and catalytic role of imidazoles and other condensing agents

Origins of Life
J OroT Yamrom


In the past decade significant advances have been made in the synthesis of oligonucleotides and other polymers by means of imidazoles and other condensing agents. In spite of the current knowledge of the chemistry of imidazoles and their importance as prebiotic catalysts, their formation under primitive earth conditions has not been properly demonstrated. We have now been able to synthesize imidazole as well as its 2-methyl and 4-methyl derivatives under plausible prebiotic conditions. One method utilizes an aldehyde (formaldehyde or acetaldehyde), glyoxal and ammonia as the starting materials for the formation of imidazole and 2-methylimidazole. The other method uses a carbohydrate and ammonia as the key reagents for the synthesis of 4-methylimidazole. The importance of imidazole and related compounds (e.g., cyanamide) in the synthesis of oligonucleotides has been studied by us as well as others. Apparently the charge relay group (-N-C-N-) present in imidazoles, carbodiimides, cyanamide, or the histidine and arginine of enzyme active centers is essential for the synthesis of phosphodiester and pyrophosphate bonds.

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