The low concentration issue is a fundamental challenge when it comes to prebiotic chemistry, as macromolecular systems need to be assembled via intermolecular reactions, and this is inherently difficult in dilute solutions. This is especially true when the reactions are challenging, and reactions that proceeded more rapidly could have dictated chemical evolution. Herein we establish that formaldehyde is capable of catalyzing, via temporary intramolecularity, a challenging reaction in water at low concentrations, thus providing an alternative to other approaches that can either lead to higher concentrations or higher effective molarities.
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Removal of oxygen was required due to the sensitivity of the reagents to oxygen over time, which caused reproducibility issues for the background reaction. Oxidation of the N-methyl group of either reagent can lead to formation of formaldehyde, which likely explains the variability in the results obtained without degassing, especially at long reaction times.
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We thank the University of Ottawa and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada for generous financial support. M.P.J. thanks the Ontario Graduate Scholarship and M.P.J. and M.J.M. thanks NSERC for graduate scholarships. We also thank Dr. Claudia El Nachef for stimulating discussions.
The authors declare no competing financial interest.
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Jamshidi, M.P., MacDonald, M.J. & Beauchemin, A.M. On the Ability of Formaldehyde to Act as a Tethering Catalyst in Water. Orig Life Evol Biosph 47, 405–412 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11084-017-9538-1
- Molecular evolution
- Temporary intramolecularity
- Low concentration issue
- Prebiotic chemistry