Letter | Published:

A plausibly prebiotic synthesis of phosphonic acids

Nature volume 378, pages 474477 (30 November 1995) | Download Citation

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Abstract

THE insolubility of calcium phosphate in water is a significant stumbling block in the chemistry required for the origin of life1. The discovery of alkyl phosphonic acids in the Murchison meteorite2 suggests the possibility of delivery of these water-soluble, phosphorus-containing molecules by meteorites or comets to the early Earth. This could have provided a supply of organic phosphorus for the earliest stages of chemical evolution; although probably not components of early genetic systems, phosphonic acids may have been precursors to the first nucleic acids3. Here we report the synthesis of several phosphonic acids, including the most abundant found in the Murchison meteorite, by ultraviolet irradiation of orthophosphorous acid in the presence of formaldehyde, primary alcohols, or acetone. We argue that similar reactions might explain the presence of phosphonic acids in Murchison, and could also have occurred on the prebiotic Earth.

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Affiliations

  1. Evolutionary Biology Research Group, Faculty of Science, University of Nijmegen, Toernooiveld, 6525 ED Nijmegen, The Netherlands

    • R. M. de Graaf
    • , J. Visscher
    •  & Alan W. Schwartz

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/378474a0

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