Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 145–160 | Cite as

Effects of Glycine, Water, Ammonia, and Ammonium Bicarbonate on the Oligomerization of Methionine

  • Rui Huang
  • Yoshihiro Furukawa
  • Tsubasa Otake
  • Takeshi Kakegawa
Prebiotic Chemistry


The abiotic oligomerization of amino acids may have created primordial, protein-like biological catalysts on the early Earth. Previous studies have proposed and evaluated the potential of diagenesis for the amino acid oligomerization, simulating the formation of peptides that include glycine, alanine, and valine, separately. However, whether such conditions can promote the formation of peptides composed of multiple amino acids remains unclear. Furthermore, the chemistry of pore water in sediments should affect the oligomerization and degradation of amino acids and oligomers, but these effects have not been studied extensively. In this study, we investigated the effects of water, ammonia, ammonium bicarbonate, pH, and glycine on the oligomerization and degradation of methionine under high pressure (150 MPa) and high temperature conditions (175 °C) for 96 h. Methionine is more difficult to oligomerize than glycine and methionine dimer was formed in the incubation of dry powder of methionine. Methionine oligomers as long as trimers, as well as methionylglycine and glycylmethionine, were formed under every condition with these additional compounds. Among the compounds tested, the oligomerization reaction rate was accelerated by the presence of water and by an increase in pH. Ammonia also increased the oligomerization rate but consumed methionine by side reactions and resulted in the rapid degradation of methionine and its peptides. Similarly, glycine accelerated the oligomerization rate of methionine and the degradation of methionine, producing water, ammonia, and bicarbonate through its decomposition. With Gly, heterogeneous dimers (methionylglycine and glycylmethionine) were formed in greater amounts than with other additional compounds although smaller amount of these heterogeneous dimers were formed with other additional compounds. These results suggest that accelerated reaction rates induced by water and co-existing reactive compounds promote the oligomerization of less reactive amino acids during diagenesis and enhance the formation of peptides composed of multiple amino acids.


Prebiotic Peptide Pressure Diagenesis pH 



This study was supported by JSPS KAKENHI grant numbers 23740402, 24244084, and 15H02144. The authors thank H. Nakazawa for valuable discussion and F. W. Nara and A. Ishida for sulfur isotope analysis.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth ScienceTohoku UniversitySendaiJapan
  2. 2.Division of Sustainable Resources Engineering, Faculty of EngineeringHokkaido UniversitySapporoJapan

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