Theories about the origin of life require chemical pathways that allow formation of life’s key building blocks under prebiotically plausible conditions. Complex molecules like RNA must have originated from small molecules whose reactivity was guided by physico-chemical processes. RNA is constructed from purine and pyrimidine nucleosides, both of which are required for accurate information transfer, and thus Darwinian evolution. Separate pathways to purines and pyrimidines have been reported, but their concurrent syntheses remain a challenge. We report the synthesis of the pyrimidine nucleosides from small molecules and ribose, driven solely by wet-dry cycles. In the presence of phosphate-containing minerals, 5′-mono- and diphosphates also form selectively in one-pot reactions. The pathway is compatible with purine synthesis, allowing the concurrent formation of all Watson-Crick bases.
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