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Almost all discussions of prebiotic chemistry assume that amino acids, nucleotides, and possibly other monomers were first formed on the Earth or brought to it in comets and meteorites, and then condensed nonenzymatically to form oligomeric products. However, attempts to demonstrate plausibly prebiotic polymerization reactions have met with limited success. We show that carbonyl sulfide (COS), a simple volcanic gas, brings about the formation of peptides from amino acids under mild conditions in aqueous solution. Depending on the reaction conditions and additives used, exposure of α-amino acids to COS generates peptides in yields of up to 80% in minutes to hours at room temperature.