Issue 39, 2020

Activation chemistry drives the emergence of functionalised protocells


The complexity of the simplest conceivable cell suggests that the chemistry of prebiotic mixtures needs to be explored to understand the intricate network of prebiotic reactions that led to the emergence of life. Early cells probably relied upon compatible and interconnected chemistries to link RNA, peptides and membranes. Here we show that several types of vesicles, composed of prebiotically plausible mixtures of amphiphiles, spontaneously form and sustain the methyl isocyanide-mediated activation of amino acids, peptides and nucleotides. Activation chemistry also drives the advantageous conversion of reactive monoacylglycerol phosphates into inert cyclophospholipids, thus supporting their potential role as major constituents of protocells. Moreover, activation of prebiotic building blocks within fatty acid-based vesicles yields lipidated species capable of localising to and functionalising primitive membranes. Our findings describe a potentially prebiotic scenario in which the components of primitive cells undergo activation and provide new species that might have enabled an increase in the functionality of protocells.

Graphical abstract: Activation chemistry drives the emergence of functionalised protocells

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Article information

Article type
Edge Article
17 Aug 2020
27 Sep 2020
First published
02 Oct 2020
This article is Open Access

All publication charges for this article have been paid for by the Royal Society of Chemistry
Creative Commons BY license

Chem. Sci., 2020,11, 10688-10697

Activation chemistry drives the emergence of functionalised protocells

C. Bonfio, D. A. Russell, N. J. Green, A. Mariani and J. D. Sutherland, Chem. Sci., 2020, 11, 10688 DOI: 10.1039/D0SC04506C

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