Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 293–311 | Cite as

HCN: A plausible source of purines, pyrimidines and amino acids on the primitive earth

  • J. P. Ferris
  • P. C. Joshi
  • E. H. Edelson
  • J. G. Lawless


Dilute (0.1M) solutions of HCN condense to oligomers at pH 9.2. Hydrolysis of these oligomers yields 4,5-dihydroxypyrimidine, orotic acid, 5-hydroxyuracil, adenine, 4-aminoimidazole-5-carboxamide and amino acids. These results, together with the earlier data, demonstrate that the three main classes of nitrogen-containing biomolecules, purines, pyrimidines and amino acids may have originated from HCN on the primitive earth. The observation of orotic acid and 4-aminoimidazole-5-carboxamide suggests that the contemporary biosynthetic pathways for nucleotides may have evolved from the compounds released on hydrolysis of HCN oligomers.

Key words

HCN Cyanide HCN oligomers 4,5-Dihydroxypyrimidine Orotic Acid 5-Hydroxyuracil Adenine 4-Aminoimidazole-5-carboxamide Prebiotic Primitive earth 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. P. Ferris
    • 1
  • P. C. Joshi
    • 1
  • E. H. Edelson
    • 1
  • J. G. Lawless
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ChemistryRensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroyUSA
  2. 2.NASA Ames Research CenterMoffett FieldUSA

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