Multicomponent Assembly of Proposed DNA Precursors in Water

We propose a novel pathway for the prebiotic synthesis of 2′-deoxynucleotides. Consideration of the constitutional chemical relationships between glycolaldehyde and β-mercapto-acetaldehyde, and the corresponding proteinogenic amino acids, serine and cysteine, led us to explore the consequences of the corresponding sulfur substitution for our previously proposed pathways leading to the canonical ribonucleotides. We demonstrate that just as 2-aminooxazole–an important prebiotic ribonucleotide precursor–is readily formed from glycolaldehyde and cyanamide, so is 2-aminothiazole formed from β-mercapto-acetaldehyde and cyanamide in water at neutral pH. Indeed, both the oxazole and the thiazole can be formed together in a one-pot reaction, and can be co-purified by crystallization or sublimation. We then show that 2-aminothiazole can take part in a 3-component carbon–carbon bond-forming reaction in water that leads to the diastereoselective synthesis of masked 2′-thiosugars regiospecifically tethered to purine precursors, which would lead to 2′-deoxynucleotides upon desulfurization. The possibility of an abiotic route to the 2′-deoxynucleotides provides a new perspective on the evolutionary origins of DNA. We also show that 2-aminothiazole is able to sequester, through reversible aminal formation, the important nucleotide precursors glycolaldehyde and glyceraldehyde in a stable, crystalline form.