New paper demonstrates plausible pathways for formation of life-critical chemicals

A new paper has been published exploring how diamidophosphate (DAP), a compound thought to be linked to the origins of life, could form naturally in the environment of the early Earth.

Geochemical Sources and Availability of Amidophosphates on the Early Earth, co-authored by Dr Terry Kee, was published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, a journal of the German Chemical Society. DAP, a simple phosphate ion, has been shown to aid in the phosphorylation of biotically and pre-biotically relevant molecules – a crucial step in the formation of life as we know it.

Phosphorylation, or the addition of phosphoryl groups to organic molecules, plays a key role in many biochemical functions, enabling protein-protein interaction, glycolysis (cellular respiration) and regulating enzymes, among others. If DAP were able to form on the early Earth, it could go some way to explaining the chemistry from which life arose.

In the paper, the authors demonstrate reasonable pathways to the formation of DAP and related chemicals in these conditions, as well as showing that these molecules are able to persist in water once they have formed.

One potential route to formation the paper discusses is via the corrosion of schreibersite, a rare iron nickel phosphide mineral, by aqueous ammonia. This builds on previous studies in 2007 and 2013 that proposed schreibersite, which is found only on Disko Island in Greenland, as the original source for the phosphorus that is key to all known life.

The work was supported the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life and by NASA Astrobiology through its Exobiology programme.

James McKay artwork of a meteorite

Image credit: James McKay

Further reading

Geochemical Sources and Availability of Amidophosphates on the Early Earth, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Dr. Clémentine GibardDr. Ian B. Gorrell, Dr. Eddy I. JiménezProf. Dr. Terence P. Kee, Prof. Dr. Matthew A. Pasek, Prof. Dr. Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy