Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

2011 Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, Ricardo Amils, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Henderson James (Jim) CleavesII, William M. Irvine, Daniele L. Pinti, Michel Viso

Formose Reaction

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-11274-4_587



Autocatalysis, carbohydrate, formaldehyde, formose, ribose, RNA World


The formose reaction, discovered by Butlerow in 1861, is a complex autocatalytic set of condensation reactions of formaldehyde to yield sugars and other small sugar-like molecules. The reaction is particularly noteworthy in the context of astrobiology and prebiotic chemistry in that it could serve as a potential abiotic source of carbohydrates, in particular ribose, which could be important for the origin of an RNA World.


The formose reaction is an autocatalytic reaction discovered by Butlerow (1861). It involves the formation of sugars, polyols and hydroxy acids from formaldehyde in a series of carbon-to-carbon condensations, as opposed to carbon-to-oxygen condensations of HCHO to form polyoxymethylene. Formose is a contraction of formaldehyde and the suffix -ose, denoting a sugar. In fact, many biological sugars have empirical formulas of the form (CH2O)n,...

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References and Further Reading

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geophysical LaboratoryCarnegie Institution of WashingtonWashingtonUSA