Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 245–252 | Cite as

Sugar-Driven Prebiotic Synthesis of Ammonia from Nitrite

Prebiotic Chemistry


Reaction of 3–5 carbon sugars, glycolaldehyde, and α-ketoaldehydes with nitrite under mild anaerobic aqueous conditions yielded ammonia, an essential substrate for the synthesis of nitrogen-containing molecules during abiogenesis. Under the same conditions, ammonia synthesis was not driven by formaldehyde, glyoxylate, 2-deoxyribose, and glucose, a result indicating that the reduction process requires an organic reductant containing either an accessible α-hydroxycarbonyl group or an α-dicarbonyl group. Small amounts of aqueous Fe+3 catalyzed the sugar-driven synthesis of ammonia. The glyceraldehyde concentration dependence of ammonia synthesis, and control studies of ammonia’s reaction with glyceraldehyde, indicated that ammonia formation is accompanied by incorporation of part of the synthesized ammonia into sugar-derived organic products. The ability of sugars to drive the synthesis of ammonia is considered important to abiogenesis because it provides a way to generate photochemically unstable ammonia at sites of sugar-based origin-of-life processes from nitrite, a plausible prebiotic nitrogen species.


Ammonia synthesis Nitrite Reduction Sugar chemistry Ferric Prebiotic synthesis Origin of life 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SETI InstituteMoffett FieldUSA

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