Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers Resurrect Four-Billion-Year-Old Enzymes, Reveal Conditions of Early Life on Earth

08.04.2011
A team of scientists from Columbia University, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Granada in Spain have successfully reconstructed active enzymes from four-billion-year-old extinct organisms.

By measuring the properties of these enzymes, they could examine the conditions in which the extinct organisms lived. The results shed new light on how life has adapted to changes in the environment from ancient to modern Earth.

In their study, published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, the researchers used vast amounts of genetic data to computationally reconstruct the genes of extinct species, a technique known as ancestral sequence reconstruction. The researchers then went a step further and synthesized the proteins encoded by these genes. They focused their efforts on a specific protein, thioredoxin, which is a vital enzyme found in all living cells.

Dr. Julio Fernandez, professor in Columbia’s Department of Biological Sciences, and his team conducted a detailed biophysical analysis of the reconstructed thioredoxin enzymes, using ultra-high resolution atomic force microscopy methods. “Given the ancient origin of the reconstructed thioredoxin enzymes, with some of them predating the buildup of atmospheric oxygen, we expected their catalytic chemistry to be simple,” said Dr. Fernandez, “Instead, we found that enzymes that existed in the Precambrian era up to four billion years ago possessed many of the same chemical mechanisms observed in their modern day relatives.”

Further examination of the ancient enzymes by Dr. Jose Sanchez-Ruiz’ group at the University of Granada in Spain revealed some striking features; the enzymes were highly resistant to temperature and were active in more acidic conditions. The findings suggest that the species hosting these ancient enzymes thrived in very hot environments that since then have progressively cooled down, and that they lived in oceans that were more acidic than today.

“By resurrecting proteins, we are able to gather valuable information about the adaptation of extinct forms of life to environmental alterations that cannot be uncovered through fossil record examinations,” said Dr. Eric Gaucher, an expert in ancestral sequence reconstruction at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The researchers are now looking to apply their strategy to other enzymes to get a clearer picture of what life was like on early earth.

The work could have applications in biotechnology, where enzymes are playing an increasing role in many industrial processes. “The unique features we observe in the ancestral enzymes show that our technique could be adapted to generate enhanced enzymes for a wide range of applications,” remarked Pallav Kosuri, a graduate student and part of the team at Columbia University. “If we learn to harness these extinct features, we could potentially improve the efficiency of important processes such as the generation of biofuels,” he added. Columbia Technology Ventures, the technology transfer office at Columbia University, is working with the scientific team to explore commercial applications of the discoveries.

About Columbia University
A leading academic and research university, Columbia University continually seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to foster a campus community deeply engaged in understanding and addressing the complex global issues of our time. Columbia’s extensive public service initiatives, cultural collaborations, and community partnerships help define the university’s underlying values and mission to educate students to be both leading scholars and informed, engaged citizens. Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia University in the City of New York is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.
About Columbia Technology Ventures
Columbia University's technology transfer office, Columbia Technology Ventures, manages Columbia's intellectual property portfolio and serves as the university's gateway for companies and entrepreneurs seeking novel technology solutions. Our core mission is to facilitate the transfer of inventions from academic research to outside organizations for the benefit of society on a local, national and global basis. For more information on Columbia Technology Ventures, please visit www.techventures.columbia.edu.

Margy Elliott | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.columbia.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Individual Receptors Caught at Work
19.10.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Rapid environmental change makes species more vulnerable to extinction
19.10.2017 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA team finds noxious ice cloud on saturn's moon titan

19.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish

19.10.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>