Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences

Date of Last Revision

2023-05-04 14:37:03



Honors Course

Honors Project in Chemistry

Number of Credits


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science

Date of Expected Graduation

Spring 2021


Nucleic acids are important molecules for all life, serving as the primary molecules for information storage and reproduction. RNA has long been thought to be the molecule that initiated protein synthesis. However, RNA has recently been thought to be too complex to synthesize prebiotically. Through a 1:1 mole ratio condensation of glycerol and phosphoric acid, I generated glycerol-phosphate oligomers that resemble a primitive form of the carbon-phosphate backbone of RNA. 75 mmol MgCl2 was added to some samples to see if the Mg cation could stabilize the reaction intermediates and further promote longer proto-RNA oligomers. These samples were all heated at 120 °C for 96 hours. Using NMR, the products of this reaction were characterized, and successful phosphate binding to glycerol was observed. Mass spectrometry was used to determine the length of the oligomers that were formed. I observed successful production of oligomers as long as pentamers, with significantly less production in samples containing Mg2+. Additionally, the products were observed under a light microscope to see the formation of any physical structures. Vesicle-like structures were observed, ranging from 10-30 microns in size. This indicates the potential ability of glycerol-phosphate oligomers to spontaneously arrange into vesicles according to its intramolecular hydrophobicity.

Research Sponsor

Dr. Nita Sahai

First Reader

Carrie Tomko

Second Reader

Dr. Hazel Barton

Honors Faculty Advisor

Dr. Adam Smith



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