Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons as Plausible Prebiotic Membrane Components
Aromatic molecules delivered to the young Earth during the heavy bombardment phase in the early history of our solar system were likely to be among the most abundant and stable organic compounds available. The Aromatic World hypothesis suggests that aromatic molecules might function as container elements, energy transduction elements and templating genetic components for early life forms. To investigate the possible role of aromatic molecules as container elements, we incorporated different polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in the membranes of fatty acid vesicles. The goal was to determine whether PAH could function as a stabilizing agent, similar to the role that cholesterol plays in membranes today. We studied vesicle size distribution, critical vesicle concentration and permeability of the bilayers using C6-C10 fatty acids mixed with amphiphilic PAH derivatives such as 1-hydroxypyrene, 9-anthracene carboxylic acid and 1,4 chrysene quinone. Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS) spectroscopy was used to measure the size distribution of vesicles and incorporation of PAH species was established by phase-contrast and epifluorescence microscopy. We employed conductimetric titration to determine the minimal concentration at which fatty acids could form stable vesicles in the presence of PAHs. We found that oxidized PAH derivatives can be incorporated into decanoic acid (DA) vesicle bilayers in mole ratios up to 1:10 (PAH:DA). Vesicle size distribution and critical vesicle concentration were largely unaffected by PAH incorporation, but 1-hydroxypyrene and 9-anthracene carboxylic acid lowered the permeability of fatty acid bilayers to small solutes up to 4-fold. These data represent the first indication of a cholesterol-like stabilizing effect of oxidized PAH derivatives in a simulated prebiotic membrane.