UV-light-driven prebiotic synthesis of iron–sulfur clusters

Claudia Bonfio, Luca Valer, Simone Scintilla, Sachin N Shah, David J. Evans, Lin Jin, Jack W. Szostak, Dimitar D. Sasselov, John D. Sutherland, Sheref S. Mansy

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99 Citations (Scopus)


Iron–sulfur clusters are ancient cofactors that play a fundamental role in metabolism and may have impacted the prebiotic chemistry that led to life. However, it is unclear whether iron–sulfur clusters could have been synthesized on prebiotic Earth. Dissolved iron on early Earth was predominantly in the reduced ferrous state, but ferrous ions alone cannot form polynuclear iron–sulfur clusters. Similarly, free sulfide may not have been readily available. Here we show that UV light drives the synthesis of [2Fe–2S] and [4Fe–4S] clusters through the photooxidation of ferrous ions and the photolysis of organic thiols. Iron–sulfur clusters coordinate to and are stabilized by a wide range of cysteine-containing peptides and the assembly of iron–sulfur cluster-peptide complexes can take place within model protocells in a process that parallels extant pathways. Our experiments suggest that iron–sulfur clusters may have formed easily on early Earth, facilitating the emergence of an iron–sulfur-cluster-dependent metabolism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1229–1234
Number of pages6
JournalNature Chemistry
Early online date10 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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