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The sulfocyanic theory on the origin of life: towards a critical reappraisal of an autotrophic theory

  • L. Perezgasga (a1), E. Silva (a2), A. Lazcano (a2) and A. Negrón-Mendoza (a3)

Abstract

In the early 1930s, Alfonso L. Herrera proposed his so-called sulfocyanic theory on the origin of life, an autotrophic proposal on the first living beings according to which NH4SCN and H2CO acted as raw materials for the synthesis of bio-organic compounds inside primordial photosynthetic protoplasmic structures. Although the work of Herrera is frequently cited in historical analysis of the development of the origin of life studies, very little attention has been given to the chemical significance of the reactions he published. In this paper we report the results of our search for amino acids obtained from a reactive mixture used by Herrera from 1933 onwards. Chromatograms using the high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) technique suggest the presence of several amino acids, the total yield being 2% of the initial thiocyanate used. Preliminary identification based on HPLC retention times suggests the presence of glycine, alanine, cysteine and methionine. Alanine was the most abundant amino acid in all samples of fractionated material analysed. Although the starting materials used by Herrera were determined by his autotrophic hypothesis on the origin of cells, our results show that his experiments may provide insights into the abiotic synthesis of sulfur-containing amino acids within the framework of a heterotrophic emergence of life.

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The sulfocyanic theory on the origin of life: towards a critical reappraisal of an autotrophic theory

  • L. Perezgasga (a1), E. Silva (a2), A. Lazcano (a2) and A. Negrón-Mendoza (a3)

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