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Miller experiments in atomistic computer simulations

Saitta, Antonino Marco, Saija, Franz
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2014 v.111 no.38 pp. 13768-13773
biogeochemistry, computer simulation, electric field, prebiotics
The celebrated Miller experiments reported on the spontaneous formation of amino acids from a mixture of simple molecules reacting under an electric discharge, giving birth to the research field of prebiotic chemistry. However, the chemical reactions involved in those experiments have never been studied at the atomic level. Here we report on, to our knowledge, the first ab initio computer simulations of Miller-like experiments in the condensed phase. Our study, based on the recent method of treatment of aqueous systems under electric fields and on metadynamics analysis of chemical reactions, shows that glycine spontaneously forms from mixtures of simple molecules once an electric field is switched on and identifies formic acid and formamide as key intermediate products of the early steps of the Miller reactions, and the crucible of formation of complex biological molecules.