The new findings, reported in the journal Structure, build on more than a dozen previous studies that aim to track the molecular evolution of life by looking for evidence of that history in present-day protein structures. These studies, led by University of Illinois crop sciences and Institute for Genomic Biology professor Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, focus on structurally and functionally distinct regions of proteins – called folds – that are part of the universal toolkit of living cells.
In the new study, Caetano-Anollés, working with colleagues in China and Korea, tackled an ancient mystery: Why did some of the earliest organisms begin to generate oxygen, and why?
“There is a consensus from earth scientists that about 2.4 billion years ago there was a big spike in oxygen on Earth,” Caetano-Anollés said. They generally agree that this rise in oxygen, called the Great Oxygenation Event, was tied to the emergence of photosynthetic organisms.
“But the problem now comes with the following question,” he said. “Oxygen is toxic, so why would a living organism generate oxygen? Something must have triggered this.”
The researchers looked for answers in the “molecular fossils” that still reside in living cells. They analyzed protein folds in nearly a thousand organisms representing every domain of life to assemble a timeline of protein history. Their timeline for this study was limited to single-fold proteins (which the researchers believe are the most ancient), and was calibrated using microbial fossils that appeared in the geologic record at specific dates.
The analysis revealed that the most ancient reaction of aerobic metabolism involved synthesis of pyridoxal (the active form of vitamin B6, which is essential to the activity of many protein enzymes) and occurred about 2.9 billion years ago. An oxygen-generating enzyme, manganese catalase, appeared at the same time.
Other recent studies also suggest that aerobic (oxygen-based) respiration began on Earth 300 to 400 million years before the Great Oxidation Event, Caetano-Anollés said. This would make sense, since oxygen production was probably going on for a while before the spike in oxygen occurred.Catalases convert hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen. The researchers hypothesize that primordial organisms “discovered” this enzyme when trying to cope with an abundance of hydrogen peroxide in the environment. Some geochemists believe that hydrogen peroxide was abundant at this time as a result of intensive solar radiation on glaciers that covered much of Earth.
“In the glacial melt waters you would have a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide and that would be gradually exposing a number of the primitive organisms (alive at that time),” Caetano-Anollés said. The appearance of manganese catalase, an enzyme that degrades hydrogen peroxide and generates oxygen as a byproduct, makes it a likely “molecular culprit for the rise of oxygen on the planet,” he said.
The research team included scientists from the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology; Huazhong Agricultural University, China; and Shandong University of Technology, China.Editor’s notes: To reach Gustavo Caetano-Anollés,
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University
Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias
28.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
29.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
29.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.03.2017 | Earth Sciences