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Prebiotic synthesis of cysteine peptides that catalyze peptide ligation in neutral water

Powner, M; Islam, S; Foden, C; Fernandez Garcia, CA; Maugeri, L; Sheppard, T; (2020) Prebiotic synthesis of cysteine peptides that catalyze peptide ligation in neutral water. Science , 370 (6518) pp. 865-869. 10.1126/science.abd5680. Green open access

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Abstract

Peptide biosynthesis is performed by ribosomes and several other classes of enzymes, but a simple chemical synthesis may have created the first peptides at the origins of life. a-Aminonitriles—prebiotic a–amino acid precursors—are generally produced by Strecker reactions. However, cysteine’s aminothiol is incompatible with nitriles. Consequently, cysteine nitrile is not stable, and cysteine has been proposed to be a product of evolution, not prebiotic chemistry. We now report a high-yielding, prebiotic synthesis of cysteine peptides. Our biomimetic pathway converts serine to cysteine by nitrile-activated dehydroalanine synthesis. We also demonstrate that N-acylcysteines catalyze peptide ligation, directly coupling kinetically stable—but energy-rich—a-amidonitriles to proteinogenic amines. This rare example of selective and efficient organocatalysis in water implicates cysteine as both catalyst and precursor in prebiotic peptide synthesis.

Type: Article
Title: Prebiotic synthesis of cysteine peptides that catalyze peptide ligation in neutral water
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd5680
Publisher version: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6518/86...
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.
Keywords: organic chemistry, peptides, origins of life
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Chemistry
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10114904
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