One of the most controversial questions of the RNA world theory is the formation of nucleosides through the reaction of nucleobases with ribose. The study presented herein discusses the thermodynamics of nucleoside formation under prebiotic conditions through the classical reaction route, which involves ribose and cytosine, as well as through the novel pathway suggested by Powner et al. [Nature2009, 459, 239–242]. Our computations show that, in contrast to the classical pathway, the route proposed by Powner et al. perfectly satisfies all conditions of a typical metabolic pathway that occurs in living organisms. In addition, we reveal the reasons that render the reaction of ribose with nucleobases endothermic and, thereby, less plausible under prebiotic conditions. We show that phosphates may play an indispensable role in the glycosylation of nucleobases by making this endothermic reaction step exothermic. In addition, we describe the catalytic role of phosphate anions in the formation of 2-aminooxazole, which is one of the key steps of the synthetic route reported by Powner et al.
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