Study funded by NASA finds protein structures responsible for the origin of life on Earth

A team of researchers has discovered the structures of proteins that may be responsible for the emergence of life in the ancient Earth’s primordial soup.

A team of researchers has discovered the structures of proteins that may be responsible for the emergence of life in the ancient Earth’s primordial soup. The study, funded by NASA, was published in the journal Science Advances. The researchers examined how primitive life on our planet arose from simple, non-living materials. They asked what properties define life as we know it and concluded that everything living would need to collect and use energy, from sources such as the sun or hydrothermal vents.

In molecular terms, this would mean that the ability to shuffle electrons was paramount to life. Because the best elements for electron transfer are metals (think standard electrical wires) and most biological activities are performed by proteins, the researchers decided to investigate the combination of the two — that is, proteins that bind metals.

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They compared all existing protein structures that bind metals to establish common features, based on the premise that these shared features were present in ancestral proteins and diversified and passed down to create the array of proteins we see today.

The evolution of protein structures involves understanding how new folds have arisen from previously existing ones, so the researchers designed a computational method that found that the vast majority of currently existing metal-binding proteins are somewhat similar, regardless of the type of metal to which they are attached. bind, the organism they come from or the functionality assigned to the protein as a whole.

“We saw that the metal-binding nuclei of existing proteins are indeed similar, although the proteins themselves may not be,” said lead author Yana Bromberg, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

“We also saw that these metal-binding nuclei are often made up of repeated substructures, a bit like LEGO blocks. Curiously, these blocks were also found in other parts of the proteins, not just metal-binding nuclei, and in many other proteins not found in our study were considered,” Bromberg continued.

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“Our observation suggests that rearrangements of these small building blocks may have had a single or small number of common ancestors and gave rise to the entire range of proteins and their functions currently available – that is, to life as we know it” Bromberg added.

“We have very little information about how life originated on this planet, and our work adds to a previously unavailable explanation,” said Bromberg, whose research focuses on deciphering the DNA blueprints of the molecular machinery of life. “This explanation could also potentially contribute to our search for life on other planets and planetary bodies. Our finding of the specific structural building blocks may also be relevant to synthetic biology efforts, where scientists again want to build specific active proteins,” Bromberg concluded.

The study, funded by NASA, also included researchers from the University of Buenos Aires.

Arun Agarwal
I am Arun Agarwal, a passionate blogger and gamer. I love to share my thoughts on games and technology through blog posts. I’m also an avid reader of books about history, philosophy, science-fiction, and other genres as well as an anime fan. I like reading books that give me new perspectives or help me think differently about the world around us.