Prebiotic chemical synthesis

  • George H. Shaw
Part of the Springer Praxis Books book series (PRAXIS)


Laboratory experiments demonstrate the chemical reactivity of atmospheres of methane, ammonia and water vapor in the presence of lightning discharges and light. The relatively short lifetime of reduced species under these conditions suggests not only rapid changes to the atmosphere, but also rapid accumulation of more complex organic compounds which would end up in the global ocean. This prebiotic chemistry was augmented by drying and wetting of organic-rich ocean water in coastal pools, leading to more complex prebiotic molecules and even polymers of various lengths. That short-term and simple laboratory experiments can produce a wide array of biologically important compounds suggests that life did, in fact, arise in some kind of pond loaded with precursor molecules, as Darwin originally conceived.


Prebiotic Amino acid Sugar Lipid Methane (CH4Ammonia (NH3Nucleotide Soup 

Suggested Reading

  1. Major Events in the History of Life, J. William Schopf, ed., 1992, Jones and Bartlett (chapter by Miller).Google Scholar
  2. Chemical Evolution, Stephen F. Mason, 1991, Oxford.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • George H. Shaw
    • 1
  1. 1.Geology DepartmentUnion CollegeSchenectadyUSA

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