Sunlight-Driven, Water-Mediated Generation of Prebiotic Complexity

Monday, 15 December 2014
Rebecca Rapf1, Elizabeth C. Griffith1, Russell J. Perkins1 and Veronica Vaida2, (1)University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)CIRES, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States
Formation of chemically complex biomolecules from simple, organic molecules under prebiotic conditions is both a thermodynamic and kinetic challenge. Synthesis of such molecules and their subsequent self-assembly into ordered structures requires a favorable source of energy as well as a favorable entropic environment. Our approach couples two such auspicious conditions, using sunlight as the energetic driver and air-water interfaces as the reaction medium. The Sun provides a large, prebiotically relevant source of energy to fuel synthetic photochemistry. Air-water interfaces are widely prevalent on oceans, lakes, and atmospheric aerosols and provide unique reaction environments that ameliorate some of the thermodynamic challenges of the aqueous bulk. Using these experimental principles, we demonstrate the ability to generate chemical complexity via in situ observation of non-enzymatic peptide bond synthesis at the surface of water. Additionally, we will discuss the photochemical formation of a double-tailed membrane component in aqueous solution, which subsequently self-assembles into ordered, three-dimensional structures.