Origin of Informational Polymers and the Search for Non-Terran Life: Protection of the Polymeric State of DNA by Phosphate Minerals


Astrobiology August 2007, 7(4): 616-630

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2006.0044

An in-depth analysis of the effects exerted on the DNA backbone by 25 crystal phosphate minerals is reported. Degradation of DNA oligomers was performed with two different reactions: Hydrolysis following Nucleophilic Degradation (HND), initiated by the nucleophilic addition of formamide on both purine and pyrimidine nucleobases, and Hydrolysis following Nucleophilic Substitution (HNS) carried on by water and starting with the removal of a nondegraded base. A complete panel of effects on the phosphoester bonds, from protection to enhanced instability to absence of interference, is described. These effects differ in the different degradation pathways and in different physical-chemical conditions. The relationship between the hardness of the mineral and its protective ability is discussed.

In addition to its interest per se, this study was prompted by the observed catalytic abilities of soluble and mineral phosphates (Saladino et al., 2006c) on the synthetic reactions by formamide. The relevance of these observations in the search for nonterran life is discussed.

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