, Volume 93, Issue 5, pp 228–231 | Cite as

The prebiotic synthesis of pyrimidines in frozen solution

  • H. James Cleaves II
  • Kevin E. Nelson
  • Stanley L. Miller
Short communication


Most prebiotic syntheses depend on the reaction of concentrated precursor compounds to produce bio-organic molecules. It is now believed that the early Earth’s atmosphere was not reducing enough to have permitted copious synthesis of precursor molecules. Freezing allows reaction to occur even from dilute solution. This reaction has been demonstrated for the purines but not for the pyrimidines. It is shown here that dilute solutions of simple prebiotic molecules produce the biological pyrimidines cytosine and uracil upon freezing. Cold environments may have allowed synthesis of all of the RNA bases even from low organic yielding atmospheres, such as those of the early Earth, Mars, Titan and Europa.


  1. Ferris J, Sanchez R, Orgel L (1968) Studies in prebiotic synthesis. III. Synthesis of pyrimidines from cyanoacetylene and cyanate. J Mol Biol 33:693–704PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Gesteland R, Cech T, Atkins J (1999) The RNA world, 2nd edn. Cold Spring Harbor Monograph Series 37. Cold Spring Harbor, NYGoogle Scholar
  3. Joyce G, Schwartz A, Miller S, Orgel L (1987) The case for an ancestral genetic system involving simple analogs of the nucleotides. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 84:4398–4402PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Levy M, Miller S (1998) The stability of the RNA bases: implications for the origin of life. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 95:7933–7938PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Levy M, Miller S, Brinton K, Bada J (2000) Prebiotic synthesis of adenine and amino acids under Europa-like conditions. Icarus 145:609–613PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Miyakawa S, Cleaves H, Miller S (2002) The cold origin of life: B. Implications based on pyrimidines and purines produced from frozen ammonium cyanide solutions. Orig Life Evol Biosph 32:209–218PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Orgel L (2004) Prebiotic adenine revisited: eutectics and photochemistry. Orig Life Evol Biosph 34:361–369PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Robertson M, Miller S (1995) An efficient prebiotic synthesis of cytosine and uracil. Nature 375:772–774PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Sanchez R, Ferris J, Orgel L (1966) Conditions for purine synthesis: did prebiotic synthesis occur at low temperatures? Science 153:72–73PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Schwartz A, Joosten H, Voet A (1982) Prebiotic adenine synthesis via hydrogen cyanide oligomerization in ice. Biosystems 15:191–193PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Shapiro R (1984) The improbability of prebiotic nucleic acid synthesis. Orig Life 14:565–570PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Stribling R, Miller S (1991) Template-directed synthesis of oligonucleotides under eutectic conditions. J Mol Evol 32:289–295PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. James Cleaves II
    • 1
  • Kevin E. Nelson
    • 2
  • Stanley L. Miller
    • 3
  1. 1.Geosciences Research DivisionThe Scripps Institution of OceanographyLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiochemistryUniversity of IllinoisUrbana-ChampaignUSA
  3. 3.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

Personalised recommendations