Prebiotic synthesis of diaminopyrimidine and thiocytosine

Michael P. Robertson, Matthew Levy, Stanley L. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The reaction of guanidine hydrochloride with cyanoacetaldehyde gives high yields (40-85%) of 2,4-diaminopyrimidine under the concentrated conditions of a drying lagoon model of prebiotic synthesis, in contrast to the low yields previously obtained under more dilute conditions. The prebiotic source of cyanoacetaldehyde, cyanoacetylene, is produced from electric discharges under reducing conditions. The effect of pH and concentration of guanidine hydrochloride on the rate of synthesis and yield of diaminopyrimidine were investigated, as well as the hydrolysis of diaminopyrimidine to cytosine, isocytosine, and uracil. Thiourea also reacts with cyanoacetaldehyde to give 2-thiocytosine, but the pyrimidine yields are much lower than with guanidine hydrochloride or urea. Thiocytosine hydrolyzes to thiouracil and cytosine and then to uracil. This synthesis would have been a significant prebiotic source of 2-thiopyrimidines and 5-substituted derivatives of thiouracil, many of which occur in tRNA. The applicability of these results to the drying lagoon model of prebiotic synthesis was tested by dry-down experiments where dilute solutions of cyanoacetaldehyde, guanidine hydrochloride, and 0.5 M NaCl were evaporated over varying periods of time. The yields of diaminopyrimidine varied from 1 to 7%. These results show that drying lagoons and beaches may have been major sites of prebiotic syntheses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)543-550
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Cyanoacetaldehyde
  • Drying lagoons
  • Guanidine
  • Pyrimidine synthesis
  • Thiourea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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