Phosphorus in prebiotic chemistry

Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen 6500, The Netherlands.
Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences (Impact Factor: 7.06). 11/2006; 361(1474):1743-9; discussion 1749. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2006.1901
Source: PubMed


The prebiotic synthesis of phosphorus-containing compounds-such as nucleotides and polynucleotides-would require both a geologically plausible source of the element and pathways for its incorporation into chemical systems on the primitive Earth. The mineral apatite, which is the only significant source of phosphate on Earth, has long been thought to be problematical in this respect due to its low solubility and reactivity. However, in the last decade or so, at least two pathways have been demonstrated which would circumvent these perceived problems. In addition, recent results would seem to suggest an additional, extraterrestrial source of reactive phosphorus. It appears that the 'phosphorus problem' is no longer the stumbling block which it was once thought to be.

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Available from: Alan W. Schwartz, Jun 18, 2015
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    • "The phosphite that Pasek and co-workers postulate to have been prebiotically active would be an oxidation product of phosphide that was delivered to Earth during the Hadean-Archean heavy meteorite bombardment >3.9 Ga [37]. This scenario is a potential solution of the ‘phosphate problem’ as discussed by Schwartz [40,41], i.e. solubilization of phosphate compounds is necessary before activation can occur. Schreibersite oxidizes slowly in contact with fluid water as the surrounding mineral matrix gets weathered, and forms several phosphorus species of mixed oxidation states like orthophosphate, pyrophosphate, hypophosphate, phosphite, etc. [36-38,42,43]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Procedures for the analysis of phosphorus in geological material normally aims for the determination of the total amount of P expressed as orthophosphate or the differentiation between inorganic and organic P. This is probably due to analytical difficulties but also to the prevalent opinion that the chemistry of phosphorus in geological environments is almost entirely restricted to the mineral apatite. Because of the low solubility of apatite it is, therefore, commonly argued that little P was around for prebiotic chemistry and that pre-biological processes would essentially have had to do without this indispensable element unless it was provided by alternative sources or mechanisms (such as reduction and activation by lightning or delivery to Earth by celestial bodies). It is a paradox that the potential existence of reactive phosphorus compounds, such as the mineral schreibersite - iron phosphide, in geological material on Earth is seldom considered although we are aware of the existence of such compounds in meteorite material. The content of Al2O3 in rocks appears to be important for the speciation of phosphorus and for how strongly it binds to silicates. In general, low alumina seems to promote the existence of isolated charge-balanced phosphorus complexes.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2014 · Geochemical Transactions
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    • "Recent reviews have proposed a widespread occurrence of horizontally transferred bacterial type polyphosphate kinase enzymes in eukaryotes [1]. Inorganic polyphosphate (poly P) has been present since pre-biotic times [2] and has been proposed as an energy distributor in a pre-ATP world [3]. Poly P is found in organisms that represent species from each domain in nature: Eukarya, Archaea and Bacteria [4-6]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Studies of online database(s) showed that convincing examples of eukaryote PPKs derived from bacteria type PPK1 and PPK2 enzymes are rare and currently confined to a few simple eukaryotes. These enzymes probably represent several separate horizontal transfer events. Retention of such sequences may be an advantage for tolerance to stresses such as desiccation or nutrient depletion for simple eukaryotes that lack more sophisticated adaptations available to multicellular organisms. We propose that the acquisition of encoding sequences for these enzymes by horizontal transfer enhanced the ability of early plants to colonise the land. The improved ability to sequester and release inorganic phosphate for carbon fixation by photosynthetic algae in the ocean may have accelerated or even triggered global glaciation events. There is some evidence for DNA sequences encoding PPKs in a wider range of eukaryotes, notably some invertebrates, though it is unclear that these represent functional genes. Polyphosphate (poly P) is found in all cells, carrying out a wide range of essential roles. Studied mainly in prokaryotes, the enzymes responsible for synthesis of poly P in eukaryotes (polyphosphate kinases PPKs) are not well understood. The best characterised enzyme from bacteria known to catalyse the formation of high molecular weight polyphosphate from ATP is PPK1 which shows some structural similarity to phospholipase D. A second bacterial PPK (PPK2) resembles thymidylate kinase. Recent reports have suggested a widespread distribution of these bacteria type enzymes in eukaryotes. Results On – line databases show evidence for the presence of genes encoding PPK1 in only a limited number of eukaryotes. These include the photosynthetic eukaryotes Ostreococcus tauri, O. lucimarinus, Porphyra yezoensis, Cyanidioschyzon merolae and the moss Physcomitrella patens, as well as the amoeboid symbiont Capsaspora owczarzaki and the non-photosynthetic eukaryotes Dictyostelium (3 species), Polysphondylium pallidum and Thecamonas trahens. A second bacterial PPK (PPK2) is found in just two eukaryotes (O. tauri and the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis). There is some evidence for PPK1 and PPK2 encoding sequences in other eukaryotes but some of these may be artefacts of bacterial contamination of gene libraries. Conclusions Evidence for the possible origins of these eukaryote PPK1s and PPK2s and potential prokaryote donors via horizontal gene transfer is presented. The selective advantage of acquiring and maintaining a prokaryote PPK in a eukaryote is proposed to enhance stress tolerance in a changing environment related to the capture and metabolism of inorganic phosphate compounds. Bacterial PPKs may also have enhanced the abilities of marine phytoplankton to sequester phosphate, hence accelerating global carbon fixation.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2013 · BMC Research Notes
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    • "triboelectric charges, Leidenfrost boiling (see James et al., 2008) and UV light, raising the possibility of Miller–Urey syntheses (e.g. Miller, 1992); hydrocarbon production via electric discharges through mixtures of 'primitive' gases (Navarro-González and Basiuk, 1996; Segura and Navarro-Gonzalez, 2001); and production of bioavailable phosphorus and fixed nitrogen by lightning (Yamagata et al., 1991; Schwartz, 2006; Mather and Harrison, 2006). During its life cycle pumice would also likely experience energy-releasing cycles of heat, light and tides at diurnal to seasonal scales, alkaline waters, freeze–thaw conditions of the kind favoured by some for nucleic acid syntheses (cf. "
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    ABSTRACT: It has recently been hypothesised that pumice, a low-density vesicular volcanic rock, could have acted as a natural floating laboratory for the accumulation and concentration of chemical reactants needed for the origin of life. To test the plausibility of his hypothesis, we here turn to the earliest rock record for evidence of pumice deposits and their associated mineralogy and biogeochemistry. We report abundant clasts of pumice from within a volcaniclastic breccia bed immediately above the ∼3,460 Ma ‘Apex chert’ unit of the Apex Basalt, Pilbara region, Western Australia. Textural and geochemical analyses reveal that the body of these pumice clasts was deeply permeated by intimate associations of C, O, N, P and S. Pumice and scoria vesicles were also lined with carbon or with catalysts such as titanium oxide or potential biominerals such as iron sulfide, while many were infilled with aluminosilicate minerals. The latter may be the metamorphosed remains of potentially catalytic clay and zeolite minerals. It is not yet possible to distinguish between chemical signals left by prokaryote biology from those left by prebiology. That being so, then early prokaryotes may well have colonized and modified these Apex pumice clasts prior to burial. Nevertheless, our data provide the first geological evidence that the catalysts and molecules needed for the earliest stages of life may be found within pumice rafts from the earliest oceans on Earth.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2013 · Precambrian Research
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