at the University
of York have made a
significant advance towards establishing the origin of the carbohydrates
(sugars) that form the building blocks of life.
A team led by Paul
Clarke, PhD, in the Department of Chemistry at York, has re-created a process which could
have occurred in the prebiotic world.
colleagues at the University
of Nottingham, they have
made the first step towards showing how simple sugars—threose and erythrose—developed.
The research is published in Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry.
molecules have an ability to exist as left-handed forms or right-handed forms.
All sugars in biology are made up of the right-handed form of molecules and yet
all the amino acids that make up the peptides and proteins are made up of the
found using simple left-handed amino acids to catalyze the formation of sugars
resulted in the production of predominately right-handed form of sugars. It
could explain how carbohydrates originated and why the right-handed form
dominates in nature.
Clarke said: “There are a lot of fundamental questions about the origins of life and many
people think they are questions about biology. But for life to have evolved,
you have to have a moment when non-living things become living—everything up to
that point is chemistry.
“We are trying to
understand the chemical origins of life. One of the interesting questions is
where carbohydrates come from because they are the building blocks of DNA and
RNA. What we have achieved is the first step on that pathway to show how simple
sugars—threose and erythrose—originated. We generated these sugars from a very
simple set of materials that most scientists believe were around at the time
that life began.”