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Keynote Lecture

WEB Mesoporous Silica in prebiotic chemistry: from structure directing agents to peptide synthesis

Tuesday (22.09.2020)
16:50 - 17:20 Z: Special Symposia I
Part of:

A key step in abiotic chemistry leading to the origin of life is polymerization of small molecules to larger ones. e.g. amino acids to short peptides to proteins. Both present-day biomineralization of silica structures and the technological design and use of porous silica and aluminosilicate structures in catalysis suggest that the interactions between solid porous forms of silica and aluminosiicates appear under a wide variety of conditions These interactions may be potentially a “two-way street”, where the organics direct the formation of specific porous silica structures and these structures catalyze other organic reactions. One may even envision a feedback loop in which the templated silica structure catalyzes the formation of additional structure directing agent which enables the formation of additional silica of similar structure to produce more of the desired organic. products. This feedback could be a path toward the accumulation of larger molecules needed for life.


These observations lead to the following two conjectures. (1) Early in prebiotic evolution, synergistic interplay arose between organic species present in aqueous solution and silica formed from rocks by dynamic dissolution – recrystallization. The organics acted as structure directing agents for local silica structures which then catalyzed polymerization of amino acids and other organic reactions. Synergy and feedback between silica and organics may have been critical in the early stages of abiotic evolution, leading both to our complex protein world and to biomineralization. (2) It is fruitful to consider the organic - silica interactions at the heart of modern technology as models for abiotic synthesis on the early Earth. Our technology may be more geomimetic than we realize, or, alternately and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, prebiotic evolution may be technomimetic.

Prof. Alexandra Navrotsky
Arizona State University