Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 196–202 | Cite as

Synthesis of phosphatidylcholine under possible primitive Earth conditions

  • M. Rao
  • J. Eichberg
  • J. Oró


Using a primitive Earth evaporating pond model, the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine was accomplished when a reaction mixture of choline chloride and disodium phosphatidate, in the presence of cyanamide and traccs of acid, was evaporated and heated at temperatures ranging from 25° to 100°C for 7 hours. Optimum yields of about 15% were obtained at 80°C. Phosphatidylcholine was identified by chromatographic, chemical and enzymatic degradation methods. On enzymatic hydrolysis with phospholipase A2 and phospholipase C, lysophosphatidylcholine and phosphorylcholine were formed, respectively. Alkaline hydrolysis gave glycerophosphorylcholine. The synthesis of phosphatidylcholine as the major compound was accompanied by the formation of lysophosphatidylcholine in smaller amounts. Cyanamide was found to be essential for the formation of phosphatidylcholine, and only traces of HCl, of the order of that required to convert the disodium phosphatidate to free phosphatidic acid were found necessary for the synthesis. This work suggests that phosphatidylcholine, which is an essential component of most biological membranes, could have been synthesized on the primitive Earth.

Key words

Prebiotic synthesis Phospholipids Phosphatidylcholine Cyanamide Liposomes Primitive membranes 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Rao
    • 1
  • J. Eichberg
    • 1
  • J. Oró
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biochemical and Biophysical SciencesUniversity of HoustonHoustonUSA

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