Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

UV-light-driven prebiotic synthesis of iron–sulfur clusters

Szostak, Jack W.; Sasselov, Dimitar D.; Sutherland, John D.; Mansy, Sheref S.; Bonfio, Claudia; Valer, Luca; Scintilla, Simone; Shah, Sachin; Evans, David J.; Jin, Lin; Szostak, Jack; Sasselov, Dimitar; Sutherland, John; Mansy, Sheref


Jack W. Szostak

Dimitar D. Sasselov

John D. Sutherland

Sheref S. Mansy

Claudia Bonfio

Luca Valer

Simone Scintilla

Sachin Shah

David J. Evans

Lin Jin

Jack Szostak

Dimitar Sasselov

John Sutherland

Sheref Mansy


Iron–sulfur clusters are ancient cofactors that play a fundamental role in metabolism and may have impacted the prebiotic chemistry that led to life. However, it is unclear whether iron–sulfur clusters could have been synthesized on prebiotic Earth. Dissolved iron on early Earth was predominantly in the reduced ferrous state, but ferrous ions alone cannot form polynuclear iron–sulfur clusters. Similarly, free sulfide may not have been readily available. Here we show that UV light drives the synthesis of [2Fe–2S] and [4Fe–4S] clusters through the photooxidation of ferrous ions and the photolysis of organic thiols. Iron–sulfur clusters coordinate to and are stabilized by a wide range of cysteine-containing peptides and the assembly of iron–sulfur cluster-peptide complexes can take place within model protocells in a process that parallels extant pathways. Our experiments suggest that iron–sulfur clusters may have formed easily on early Earth, facilitating the emergence of an iron–sulfur-cluster-dependent metabolism.


Szostak, J. W., Sasselov, D. D., Sutherland, J. D., Mansy, S. S., Bonfio, C., Valer, L., …Mansy, S. (2017). UV-light-driven prebiotic synthesis of iron–sulfur clusters. Nature Chemistry, 9(12), 1229-1234.

Acceptance Date Jun 1, 2017
Online Publication Date Jul 10, 2017
Publication Date Dec 1, 2017
Deposit Date Jul 13, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jan 17, 2018
Journal Nature chemistry
Print ISSN 1755-4330
Electronic ISSN 1755-4349
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 9
Issue 12
Pages 1229-1234
Keywords Metalloproteins; Chemical origin of life
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Authors' accepted manuscript of article published in: Nature chemistry, 2017, v.9.


You might also like

Downloadable Citations