Phosphorus: a Case for Mineral-Organic Reactions in Prebiotic Chemistry

  • Matthew Pasek
  • Barry Herschy
  • Terence P. Kee


The ubiquity of phosphorus (P) in modern biochemistry suggests that P may have participated in prebiotic chemistry prior to the emergence of life. Of the major biogenic elements, phosphorus alone lacks a substantial volatile phase and its ultimate source therefore had to have been a mineral. However, as most native P minerals are chemically un-reactive within the temperature-pressure-pH regimes of contemporary life, it begs the question as to whether the most primitive early living systems on earth had access to a more chemically reactive P-mineral inventory. The meteoritic mineral schreibersite has been proposed as an important source of reactive P on the early earth. The chemistry of schreibersite as a P source is summarized and reviewed here. Recent work has also shown that reduced oxidation state P compounds were present on the early earth; these compounds lend credence to the relevance of schreibersite as a prebiotic mineral. Ultimately, schreibersite will oxidize to phosphate, but several high-energy P intermediates may have provided the reactive material necessary for incorporating P into prebiotic molecules.


Phosphorus Prebiotic Schreibersite Surface chemistry Radical reactions Phosphorylation 



This work was jointly supported by NSF and the NASA Astrobiology Program, under the NSF Center for Chemical Evolution, CHE-1004570 (M.A.P.). We thank Greg Springsteen for several helpful comments that improved this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of GeosciencesUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Genetics, Evolution and EnvironmentUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.School of ChemistryUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

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