Origins of life and evolution of the biosphere

, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 563–591 | Cite as

Clay Catalysis of Oligonucleotide Formation: Kinetics of the Reaction of the 5'-Phosphorimidazolides of Nucleotides with the Non-Basic Heterocycles Uracil and Hypoxanthine

  • Kunio Kawamura
  • James P. Ferris


The montmorillonite clay catalyzed condensation of activated monocleotides to oligomers of RNA is a possible first step in the formation of the proposed RNA world. The rate constants for the condensation of the phosphorimidazolide of adenosine were measured previously and these studies have been extended to the phosphorimidazolides of inosine and uridine in the present work to determine if substitution of neutral heterocycles for the basic adenine ring changes the reaction rate or regioselectivity. The oligomerization reactions of the 5'-phosphoromidazolides of uridine (ImpU) and inosine (ImpI) on montmorillonite yield oligo(U)s and oligo(I)s as long as heptamers. The rate constants for oligonucleotide formation were determined by measuring the rates of formation of the oligomers by HPLC. Both the apparent rate constants in the reaction mixture and the rate constants on the clay surface were calculated using the partition coefficients of the oligomers between the aqueous and clay phases. The rate constants for trimer formation are much greater than those dimer synthesis but there was little difference in the rate constants for the formation of trimers and higher oligomers. The overall rates of oligomerization of the phosphorimidazolides of purine and pyrimidine nucleosides in the presence of montmorillonite clay are the same suggesting that RNA formed on the primitive Earth could have contained a variety of heterocyclic bases. The rate constants for oligomerization of pyrimidine nucleotides on the clay surface are significantly higher than those of purine nucleotides since the pyrimidine nucleotides bind less strongly to the clay than do the purine nucleotides. The differences in the binding is probably due to Van der Waals interactions between the purine bases and the clay surface. Differences in the basicity of the heterocyclic ring in the nucleotide have little effect on the oligomerization process.


Oligomer Montmorillonite Uridine Inosine Apparent Rate Constant 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kunio Kawamura
    • 1
  • James P. Ferris
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Applied ChemistryOsaka Prefecture UniversitySakai, OsakaJapan
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryRensselaer Polytechnic InstituteTroy

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