HeathcareThese are the proteins that could originate life on...

These are the proteins that could originate life on Earth

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Scientists led by Rutgers University have found the structures of proteins that may be responsible for the origin of life in the primordial soup of ancient Earth.

The researchers, who publish results in Science Advances, explored how early life could have originated on our planet from simple non-living materials. They wondered what properties define life as we know it, and concluded that anything alive would have needed to collect and use energy, from sources like the Sun or hydrothermal vents.

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In molecular terms, this would mean that the ability to handle electrons was essential for life. Since the best elements for electron transfer are metals and most biological activities are carried out by proteins, the researchers decided to explore the combination of the two, that is, metal-binding proteins.

They compared all existing metal-binding protein structures to establish any common features, based on the premise that these shared features were present in ancestral proteins and diversified and passed on to create the range of proteins we see today.

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

“We saw that the metal-binding cores of existing proteins are indeed similar, even though the proteins themselves are not,” said in a statement the study’s lead author, Yana Bromberg, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

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“We also saw that these metal-binding cores are often made up of repeating substructures, like LEGO blocks. Interestingly, these building blocks were also found in other regions of the proteins, not just metal-binding cores, and in many other proteins that were not considered in our study. Our observation suggests that rearrangements of these small building blocks may have had a single common ancestor or a small number of ancestors and given rise to the full range of proteins and their functions that are currently available, i.e. life like we know”.

“We have very little information about how life arose on this planet, and our work provides an explanation that was previously not available”, He 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 specific structural building blocks is also possibly relevant to synthetic biology efforts, where scientists aim to build specifically active proteins again.”

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