Hydrothermal Reactions of Pyruvic Acid: Synthesis, Selection, and Self-Assembly of Amphiphilic Molecules
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Selection and self-assembly of organic compounds in aqueous phases must have been a primary process leading to emergent molecular complexity and ultimately to the origin of life. Facile reactions of pyruvic acid under hydrothermal conditions produce a complex mixture of larger organic molecules, some of which are amphiphiles that readily self-assemble into cell-sized vesicular structures. Chemical characterization of major components of this mixture reveals similarities to the suite of organic compounds present in the Murchison carbonaceous chondrite, some of whose molecules also self-assemble into membranous vesicles. Physical properties of the products are thus relevant to understanding the prebiotic emergence of molecular complexity. These results suggest that a robust family of prebiotic reaction pathways produces similar products over a range of geochemical and astrochemical environments.
Keywordspyruvic acid hydrothermal system Murchison carbonaceous chondrite self-assembly amphiphile
We gratefully acknowledge the analytical assistance of George Cody (GCMS) and Marilyn Fogel (SELDI). Ren Lu, Berndt Simoniet, Jeremy Sturm, and Mark Teece contributed helpful comments and suggestions. Hatten S. Yoder, Jr. provided invaluable assistance in high-pressure/high-temperature experiments prior to his untimely death in August 2003. This work was supported by grants from NSF Division of Geochemistry (EAR9817964), NASA Exobiology Program (NAGW-4665), NASA Astrobiology Institute (NASA Cooperative Agreement NCC2-1056), and the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
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