Prebiotic dimer and trimer peptide formation in gas-phase atmospheric nanoclusters of water

ACS Citation

Harold, S. E. ; Warf, S. L. ; Shields, G. C. “Prebiotic Dimer and Trimer Peptide Formation in Gas-Phase Atmospheric Nanoclusters of Water”, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2023, 25, 28517 – 28532.


Insight into the origin of prebiotic molecules is key to our understanding of how living systems evolved into the complex network of biological processes on Earth. By modelling diglycine and triglycine peptide formation in the prebiotic atmosphere, we provide a plausible pathway for peptide growth. By examining different transition states (TSs), we conclude that the formation of diglycine and triglycine in atmospheric nanoclusters of water in the prebiotic atmosphere kinetically favors peptide growth by an N-to-C synthesis of glycines through a trans conformation. Addition of water stabilizes the TS structures and lowers the Gibbs free activation energies. At temperatures that model the prebiotic atmosphere, the free energies of activation with a six water nanocluster as part of the TS are predicted to be 16 kcal mol−1 relative to the prereactive complex. Examination of the trans vs. cis six water transition states reveals that a homodromic water network that maximizes the acceptor/donor nature of the six waters is responsible for enhanced kinetic favorability of the trans N-to-C pathway. Compared to the non-hydrated trans TS, the trans six-water TS accelerates the reaction of diglycine and glycine to form triglycine by 13 orders of magnitude at 217 K. Nature uses the trans N-to-C pathway to synthesize proteins in the ribosome, and we note the similarities in hydrogen bond stabilization between the transition state for peptide synthesis in the ribosome and the transition states formed in nanoclusters of water in the same pathway. These results support the hypothesis that small oligomers formed in the prebiotic atmosphere and rained onto earth's surface.

Source Name

Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics

Publication Date







28517 – 28532

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