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Issue 30, 2016
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Sunlight as an energetic driver in the synthesis of molecules necessary for life

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Abstract

Solar radiation was overwhelmingly the largest source of energy on the early Earth. Energy provided by the Sun has the potential to access different chemistries than energy provided by other sources, such as hydrothermal vents, because of the unique characteristics of photochemistry that differentiate it from conventional thermal chemistry. This review considers how sunlight-driven reactions can abiotically generate prebiotic molecules necessary for the evolution of life. We discuss briefly the characteristics of the early Sun and the likely environmental conditions on the early Earth because photochemistry is both environment- and molecule-specific. An overview of the fundamental principles of photophysics and photochemistry is followed by discussion of a selection of prebiotically-relevant examples of photochemical reactions, focusing on syntheses that lead to the production of cellular components (e.g. sugars, lipids, and biopolymer precursors). The role of photostability as an evolutionary driving force is also considered. These examples highlight the ability of simple organic molecules to harness solar energy and convert it into high-energy chemical bonds, generating molecular complexity.

Graphical abstract: Sunlight as an energetic driver in the synthesis of molecules necessary for life

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Publication details

The article was received on 12 Feb 2016, accepted on 10 May 2016 and first published on 11 May 2016


Article type: Perspective
DOI: 10.1039/C6CP00980H
Citation: Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2016,18, 20067-20084
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    Sunlight as an energetic driver in the synthesis of molecules necessary for life

    R. J. Rapf and V. Vaida, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2016, 18, 20067
    DOI: 10.1039/C6CP00980H

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