Synthesising molecules the way they were formed at dawn of life on Earth

Washington D.C, Sept 24: A team of researchers has come up with a new synthesis method that imitates the way molecules were formed at the dawn of life on Earth.

Researchers from the Institute for Advanced Chemistry of Catalonia (IQAC-CSIC) have developed a method for synthesising organic molecules very selectively, by assembling simple molecules and using an enzyme from E. coli (FSA: D-fructose-6-phosphate aldolase), which acts as a biocatalyst.

This is a significant step forward since it replicates the formation of carbohydrates in conditions resembling those that presumably initiated life on the Earth (prebiotic conditions) and because it allows relatively large organic molecules to be obtained very selectively and efficiently. Furthermore, it is a process with few steps, that does not use organic solvents and generates no waste, and it has great potential in chemistry, especially for obtaining molecules and active ingredients of interest (drugs, supplements, etc.).

Pere Clapes, who led this project, explains that in the synthesis of organic molecules, it is not only important for them to have the correct structure, but also the right angle and position in space, because this affects their function.

In fact, this is one of the main problems that can limit the effectiveness of compounds like drugs. In the case of pentoses and hexoses, these are simple sugars (monosaccharides) with five and six carbon atoms, respectively: crucial for life thanks to their function in energy production, structuring, communication and cell-cell recognition.

The study shows that the scientists obtained pentoses and hexoses by assembling formaldehyde and glycolaldehyde, with a minimal modification to the FSA enzyme sequence.

The results are presented in the journal Nature Chemistry.