Research Highlights

Probing the origin of life

doi:10.1038/nindia.2010.132 Published online 29 September 2010

Researchers have found a new way of catalysing direct reductive amination, a reaction that mimics natural biochemical amination. The team used a single nucleotide — the building block of nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA — as a catalyst to successfully mimic common biological reactions that create amino acids.

This fascinating single-nucleotide catalysis may shed new light on how primordial macromolecules such as DNA and RNA paved the way for life on earth.

The researchers first considered the wide range of biological functions served by enzyme cofactors such as coenzyme A, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide and flavin adenine dinucleotide. These enzyme cofactors have nucleotides, but the researchers hypothesized that these nucleotides are aided by enzymes to execute biological reactions. To test their conjecture in lab, the researchers chose adenosine diphosphate (ADP), a nucleotide as catalyst to aid reductive amination, a reaction that resembles biological reactions.

In an ADP-catalysed reductive amination of aldehydes, they found that a minute amount of ADP was sufficient to push the reaction forward. "The process is simple, efficient and mimics the nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide reduction approach for the synthesis of structurally diverse amines. This could provide clues regarding the origin of life," says lead researcher Atul Kumar. This reaction is the first report demonstrating the catalytic ability of a single nucleotide and one of the most genuine biomimetic reactions of organic chemistry, he adds.


  1. Kumar, A. et al. Single nucleotide-catalyzed biomimetic reductive amination. Adv. Synth. Catal. 352, 2227-2232 (2010) | Article | ADS |