Phosphorylation on the Early Earth

Document Type


Publication Date



Phosphorus, Origins of life, Prebiotic, Hadean, Schreibersite, Struvite, Phosphorylation, Phosphate

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Phosphorus is an element critical to the formation of several biomolecules, including nucleic acids, the energy transfer molecule ATP, and phospholipids. It hence lies at the heart of several biomolecular functions. However, the formation of these key biomolecules is hindered by the geochemical properties of phosphorus, including its low solubility and poor reactivity. Here we review the approaches that have been taken to overcome some of these difficulties, and place them in the context of the geochemistry of the early earth. We find many experiments rely on phosphate minerals unlikely present on the Hadean earth, or employ conditions that depend on unusual geochemical environments. We propose the most likely routes to forming organophosphate molecules in the context of a plausible prebiotic geochemistry may rely instead on ephemeral phosphate minerals, or redox reactions of phosphorus to form the necessary soluble and reactive phosphorus reagents.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Chemical Geology, v. 475, p. 149-170.