Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 17–22 | Cite as

Microspherules from Sugars in the Absence of Nitrogen

  • Danielle Rand
  • Marina Belenky
  • Judith HerzfeldEmail author
Prebiotic Chemistry


Reactions of short sugars under mild, plausibly prebiotic conditions yield organic microspherules that may have played a role in prebiotic chemistry as primitive reaction vessels. It has been widely thought that nitrogen chemistry, in particular Amadori rearrangement, is central to this process, Here we show that microspherules form in the absence of any nitrogen compounds if the pH is sufficiently low. In particular, while the microspherule formation induced by ammonium acetate (pH 7) is not reproduced by ammonium chloride (pH 5), it is reproduced by oxalic acid and by hydrochloric acid (pH 1). The formation of microspherules in the presence of oxalic acid is similar to that in the presence of ammonium acetate: aqueous reactions of D-erythrose, D-ribose, 2-deoxy-D-ribose and D-fructose in the presence of oxalic acid produce microspherules ranging in size from approximately 1–5 μm after eight weeks incubation at 65°C, while the aldohexoses D-glucose, D-galactose and D-mannose do not. This pattern correlates with the occurrence of furanose forms in these sugars.


Prebiotic chemistry Sugar browning Sugar polymerization Amadori Maillard 



We thank James Hendrickson, Isaac Krauss, and Arthur Weber for helpful discussions. This investigation was supported by NASA Grant No. NNX07AV52G.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Danielle Rand
    • 1
  • Marina Belenky
    • 1
  • Judith Herzfeld
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of ChemistryBrandeis UniversityWalthamUSA

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