Chiral encoding may provide a simple solution to the origin of life

Ashley Brewer and Anthony P. Davis*

Nature Chem. 2014, 6, 569–574


The route by which the complex and specific molecules of life arose from the ‘prebiotic soup’ remains an unsolved problem. Evolution provides a large part of the answer, but this requires molecules that can carry information (that is, exist in many variants) and can replicate themselves. The process is commonplace in living organisms, but not so easy to achieve with simple chemical systems. It is especially difficult to contemplate in the chemical chaos of the prebiotic world. Although popular in many quarters, the notion that RNA was the first self-replicator carries many difficulties. Here, we present an alternative view, suggesting that there may be undiscovered self-replication mechanisms possible in much simpler systems. In particular, we highlight the possibility of information coding through stereochemical configurations of substituents in organic polymers. We also show that this coding system leads naturally to enantiopurity, solving the apparent problem of biological homochirality.