A key step in the evolution of life on Earth is thought to be when abiotically produced organic compounds underwent environmentally-driven processes that produced more and more complex compounds. One such process is polymerization, in which monomer molecules are connected together in chains or networks.

Many molecules used in life today are not easily polymerized in the environmental conditions that would have existed on the primitive Earth. A recent study examined monomers known as alpha-hydroxy acids, which could have been abundant on the early Earth, to assess their potential role in life’s origins.

The study, “Simple prebiotic synthesis of high diversity dynamic combinatorial polyester libraries,” was published in the journal Nature Communications: Chemistry. The work was performed at the NSF/NASA Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE) at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. The CCE is a collaborative program supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the NASA Astrobiology Program.