Role of mineral surfaces in prebiotic chemical evolution. In silico quantum mechanical studies

Albert Rimola, Mariona Sodupe, Piero Ugliengo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. There is a consensus that the interaction of organic molecules with the surfaces of naturally-occurring minerals might have played a crucial role in chemical evolution and complexification in a prebiotic era. The hurdle of an overly diluted primordial soup occurring in the free ocean may have been overcome by the adsorption and concentration of relevant molecules on the surface of abundant minerals at the sea shore. Specific organic–mineral interactions could, at the same time, organize adsorbed molecules in well-defined orientations and activate them toward chemical reactions, bringing to an increase in chemical complexity. As experimental approaches cannot easily provide details at atomic resolution, the role of in silico computer simulations may fill that gap by providing structures and reactive energy profiles at the organic–mineral interface regions. Accordingly, numerous computational studies devoted to prebiotic chemical evolution induced by organic–mineral interactions have been proposed. The present article aims at reviewing recent in silico works, mainly focusing on prebiotic processes occurring on the mineral surfaces of clays, iron sulfides, titanium dioxide, and silica and silicates simulated through quantum mechanical methods based on the density functional theory (DFT). The DFT is the most accurate way in which chemists may address the behavior of the molecular world through large models mimicking chemical complexity. A perspective on possible future scenarios of research using in silico techniques is finally proposed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • Density functional theory
  • Early earth
  • Mineral surfaces
  • Origin of life
  • Prebiotic chemistry
  • Surface modelling
  • Theoretical chemistry


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