Prebiotic Chemistry Group

Coordinación de la línea: David Hochberg Newman

Prebiotic Evolution is the first step in the emergence of life; it encompasses all the natural physico-chemical processes that occur within a given planetary environment starting from its formation, up until the emergence of the first self-replicating systems on which the Darwinian Process can begin to operate. Three main problems are to be solved: (1) The abiotic origin of the important organic compounds (this subject is usually known as Prebiotic Chemistry), (2) the origin of the homoquirality of all the actual bioorganic compounds (its currently accepted that it is impossible to construct any self replicating systems using a mixture of enantiomeric compounds, this necessarily leads to its prebiotic origin) and (3) the supramolecular association of the complex molecules generated and vesicle formation. (4) Molecular self-asembly on surfaces.

Scientific objectives:
• Influence of the physico-chemical environmental conditions on the primary processes that generate
complex organic molecules from simple molecules in gas and liquid phase and ices, by the effect of
sources of energy like cold and hot plasmas, UV photolysis , impact shock and vaporization, the
analysis and structural elucidation of the products obtained and the determination of the synthetic
mechanisms and pathways. The results obtained permit the prediction of the organic chemical processes in a given extraterrestial environment.

• Interaction of biomolecules on metallic and mineral surfaces: Stability of adsorbed molecules under
extreme environmental conditions, self-assembling processes catalytic reactivity in connexion with the
origin of life. Study of the enantiomeric selection driven by chiral molecules adsorbed on surfaces.

• Secondary prebiotic processes that take place among the molecules synthesized in the primary
processes and inorganic-geologic materials that lead to relevant molecules of biochemical interest as
simple, nucleobases, lipidic cofactors or informational complex polymers. This includes the study of
heterogeneous catalysis and the compartmentalization processes.

• The origin of metabolism. In this point we intend to explore the possibilities of the increase of
complexity of a set of organic components obtained in the previous point (1) and subjected to
conditions studied in point (2). The emergence of a system far from equilibrium based on the oscillatory Krebs-type cycles could establish a protometabolic system.

• Study of the experimental processes capable of breaking chiral symmetry in abiotic conditions using as model the nucleation and growth of enantiomorphic crystals generated from non chiral molecules (for example, sodium chlorate) with the intention of reproducing the conditions of symmetry breaking
obtained in these models with chemical processes studied previously in problems (1-3). The role of
self-organization processes among macromolecular entities and catalytic amplification of the chirality
will be experimentally tested in such reactions.

• Understanding the theoretical aspects of prebiotic chemistry and chiral crystallization. The major focus is devoted to the study of autocatalytic reaction systems, chemical self-replicating systems, and chiral symmetry breaking systems, as precursors to the origin of biological homoquirality. We take these reaction networks, and study their dynamic stability properties (perturbation theory), their critical
properties (via the dynamic renormalization group), the role of intrinsic diffusion-limited noise
(stochastic methods), and their spatial and temporal evolution (numerical simulation). Another
important theme will be the analytic and numerical study of such reaction networks in moving and
stirred fluids.

Knowledge transfer objectives:
As previously, all the results that are objects for patent applications will be registered.

Training objectives:
We will participate actively in the Master and Doctorate Program of CAB; the intention is to incorporate Ph D students into our research line up to a maximum of four. Also we will continue giving conferences in different Schools, short curses etc.

Internationalizacion objectives:
The participants in the subline have in most cases international collaborations, an effort will be paid to establish new ones, particularly with European and United States researchers.

Outreach and science popularization objectives:
A continuous effort in the popularization of our research will be made, this includes the participation in “Madrid por la Ciencia” and giving conferences and seminars in the Universities
Departments and support units

The answer to questions about life and its origin come from the combined efforts of many disciplines

Research areas

The science developed in the CAB is channeled through interdepartmental research lines

Miembros | Investigadores

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