Cyclophospholipids Increase Protocellular Stability to Metal Ions

Model protocells have long been constructed with fatty acids, because these lipids are prebiotically plausible and can, at least theoretically, support a protocell life cycle. However, fatty acid protocells are stable only within a narrow range of pH and metal ion concentration. This instability is particularly problematic as the early Earth would have had a range of conditions, and life as we know it is completely reliant on metal ions for catalysis and the folding and activity of biological polymers. Here we show that prebiotically plausible monoacyl cyclophospholipids form robust vesicles that survive a broad range of pH and high concentrations of Mg2+, Ca2+, and Na+. Importantly, stability to Mg2+ and Ca2+ is improved by the presence of environmental concentrations of Na+. These results suggest that cyclophospholipids, or lipids with similar characteristics, may have played a central role during the emergence of Darwinian evolution.