Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 44 , Issue 4 , pp 354 –360 | Cite as

Energy from Redox Disproportionation of Sugar Carbon Drives Biotic and Abiotic Synthesis

  • Arthur L.  Weber


To identify the energy source that drives the biosynthesis of amino acids, lipids, and nucleotides from glucose, we calculated the free energy change due to redox disproportionation of the substrate carbon of (1) 26-carbon fermentation reactions and (2) the biosynthesis of amino acids and lipids of E. coli from glucose. The free energy (cal/mmol of carbon) of these reactions was plotted as a function of the degree of redox disproportionation of carbon (disproportionative electron transfers (mmol)/mmol of carbon). The zero intercept and proportionality between energy yield and degree of redox disporportionation exhibited by this plot demonstrate that redox disproportionation is the principal energy source of these redox reactions (slope of linear fit =−10.4 cal/mmol of disproportionative electron transfers). The energy and disproportionation values of E. coli amino acid and lipid biosynthesis from glucose lie near this linear curve fit with redox disproportionation accounting for 84% and 96% (and ATP only 6% and 1%) of the total energy of amino acid and lipid biosynthesis, respectively. These observations establish that redox disproportionation of carbon, and not ATP, is the primary energy source driving amino acid and lipid biosynthesis from glucose. In contrast, we found that nucleotide biosynthesis involves very little redox disproportionation, and consequently depends almost entirely on ATP for energy. The function of sugar redox disproportionation as the major source of free energy for the biosynthesis of amino acids and lipids suggests that sugar disproportionation played a central role in the origin of metabolism, and probably the origin of life.

Key words: Biosynthesis — Fermentation — Bioenergetics — Origin of metabolism — Prebiotic synthesis — Origin of life — Molecular evolution — Reduction-oxidation — Sugar chemistry — Free energy 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur L.  Weber
    • 1
  1. 1.SETI Institute, Mail Stop 239-4, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000, USAUS

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