Origins of life

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 49–55

Photochemical synthesis of biomolecules under anoxic conditions


  • Clair Folsome
    • Exobiology Laboratory, Department of MicrobiologyUniversity of Hawaii
  • Andrew Brittain
    • Exobiology Laboratory, Department of MicrobiologyUniversity of Hawaii
  • Michael Zelko
    • Exobiology Laboratory, Department of MicrobiologyUniversity of Hawaii

DOI: 10.1007/BF00928763

Cite this article as:
Folsome, C., Brittain, A. & Zelko, M. Origins Life Evol Biosphere (1983) 13: 49. doi:10.1007/BF00928763


We report the long-wavelength UV anoxic photosynthesis of uracil, various sugars (including deoxyribose and glycoaldehyde), amino acids, and other organic photoproducts. These reactions occur in mixtures of water, calcium carbonate, formaldehyde and hydrazine. Our data demonstrate that under several sets of conditions biomolecules can be formed in variety and abundance from reduced compounds (formaldehyde and hydrazine) derived from anoxic dinitrogen/carbon dioxide environments. The formaldehyde concentrations were varied from 10 mM to 0.005 mM, and the hydrazine concentrations were varied from 1 mM to 0.01 mM. The highest of these reactant concentrations were 500 and 6 times greater than those reported for earlier experiments upon the synthesis of these precursors from CO2 or N2, while the lowest of reactant concentrations employed here were 0.5 (formaldehyde) and 0.006 (hydrazine). Product yields were greatest when the hydrazine/formaldehyde ratio was 1, and when the reactant concentrations were low. These data suggest that organic products can be formed in variety from those amounts of formaldehyde and hydrazine precursors which are themselves formed under anoxic UV photochemical conditions. Hence these various reactions would seem to have prebiotic relevance. The UV 254 nm photon flux employed was 100 times higher than unattenuated solar flux. Durations of UV exposure were 24 hrs and 72 hrs. No experiments have been addressed to the possibility of UV flux dependency.

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© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1983