A recent controversy about the presence of arsenic in biological systems prompted us to investigate the possible replacement of phosphorus by arsenic in prebiotic species small enough to be potentially identified in space. Systematic computational experiments were carried out on simple systems able to form a peptide or analogous bond. Density Functional Theory (DFT) within the B3LYP formalism, MP2 and CCSD(T) methods were used to determine the most stable isomers that can possibly form from the [C,H,O,As] and [C,3H,O,As] sets of atoms. It was found that HAsCO, like HPCO and HNCO was the most stable isomer. With three hydrogen atoms, the peptide-like bond (AsH2–CHO) is not the most stable structure, contrary to NH2–CHO. It is ∼9 kcal mol−1 higher than the most stable structure, CH2As–OH. To assess the plausibility of the As to P substitution, a comparative study of the dimethylphosphate (DMP) and dimethylarsenate (DMA) anions was then carried out. It was found that the gauche–gauche arrangement that mimics the helix structure is the most stable one in both model molecules, showing that there is no structural evidence to discard the hypothesis of the possible inclusion of As in place of P in the DNA architecture. The topological analysis of the ELF function showed a weakening by 50% of two As–O covalent bonds in all the DMA conformers. It means that if As replaces P, the structure of the DNA helix could be weakened. Rotational constants and IR frequencies of the low-lying isomers are given to encourage laboratory experiments on these prototype molecules.
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