Spontaneous Oligomerization of Nucleotide Alternatives in Aqueous Solutions

  • Karen E. Smith
  • Christopher H. House
  • Jason P. Dworkin
  • Michael P. Callahan
Prebiotic Chemistry


On early Earth, a primitive polymer that could spontaneously form from likely available precursors may have preceded both RNA and DNA as the first genetic material. Here, we report that heated aqueous solutions containing 5-hydroxymethyluracil (HMU) result in oligomers of uracil, heated solutions containing 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (HMC) result in oligomers of cytosine, and heated solutions containing both HMU and HMC result in mixed oligomers of uracil and cytosine. Oligomerization of hydroxymethylated pyrimidines, which may have been abundant on the primitive Earth, might have been important in the development of simple informational polymers.


Liquid chromatography Mass spectrometry Oligomerization Prebiotic chemistry Pyrimidines 



This research was supported by the NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, NASA Astrobiology Institute via the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center (cooperative agreement #NNA09DA76A), and the NASA Astrobiology Institute via the Goddard Center for Astrobiology. We thank Prof. Jim Kubicki (Penn State) for assistance with DFT calculations. We also thank Dr. Henderson (Jim) Cleaves (Institute for Advanced Study/Tokyo Institute of Technology) for helpful discussions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen E. Smith
    • 1
  • Christopher H. House
    • 1
  • Jason P. Dworkin
    • 2
  • Michael P. Callahan
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Geosciences and Penn State Astrobiology Research CenterPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Solar System Exploration Division and Goddard Center for AstrobiologyNational Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight CenterGreenbeltUSA
  3. 3.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryBoise State UniversityBoiseUSA

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