Francis Opalko's Publications
Solubility of Polyethers in Hydrocarbons
at Low Temperatures. A Model for Potential
Genetic Backbones on Warm Titans
Christopher McLendon, F. Jeffrey Opalko, Heshan I. Illangkoon, and Steven A. Benner
15 (3) (2015) DOI: 10.1089/ast.2014.1212
Ethers are proposed here as the repeating backbone linking units in linear genetic biopolymers that might support Darwinian evolution in hydrocarbon oceans. Hydrocarbon oceans are found in our own solar system as methane mixtures on Titan. They may be found as mixtures of higher alkanes (propane, for example) on warmer hydrocarbon-rich planets in exosolar systems ("warm Titans"). We report studies on the solubility of several short polyethers in propane over its liquid range (from 85 to 231 K, or - 188°C to - 42°C). These show that polyethers are reasonably soluble in propane at temperatures down to ca. 200 K. However, their solubilities drop dramatically at still lower temperatures and become immeasurably low below 170 K, still well above the ~95 K in Titan's oceans. Assuming that a liquid phase is essential for any living system, and genetic biopolymers must dissolve in that biosolvent to support Darwinism, these data suggest that we must look elsewhere to identify linear biopolymers that might support genetics in Titan's surface oceans. However, genetic molecules wih polyether backbones may be suitable to support life in hydrocarbon oceans on warm Titans, where abundant organics and environments lacking corrosive water might make it easier for life to originate.