Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rutgers scientists identify protein that may have existed when life began

31.08.2018

The primordial peptide may have appeared 4 billion years ago

How did life arise on Earth? Rutgers researchers have found among the first and perhaps only hard evidence that simple protein catalysts - essential for cells, the building blocks of life, to function - may have existed when life began.


Researchers have designed a synthetic small protein that wraps around a metal core composed of iron and sulfur. This protein can be repeatedly charged and discharged, allowing it to shuttle electrons within a cell. Such peptides may have existed at the dawn of life, moving electrons in early metabolic cycles.

Credit: Vikas Nanda/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Their study of a primordial peptide, or short protein, is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the chemist Günter Wächtershäuser postulated that life began on iron- and sulfur-containing rocks in the ocean. Wächtershäuser and others predicted that short peptides would have bound metals and served as catalysts of life-producing chemistry, according to study co-author Vikas Nanda, an associate professor at Rutgers' Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Human DNA consists of genes that code for proteins that are a few hundred to a few thousand amino acids long. These complex proteins - needed to make all living-things function properly - are the result of billions of years of evolution.

When life began, proteins were likely much simpler, perhaps just 10 to 20 amino acids long. With computer modeling, Rutgers scientists have been exploring what early peptides may have looked like and their possible chemical functions, according to Nanda.

The scientists used computers to model a short, 12-amino acid protein and tested it in the laboratory. This peptide has several impressive and important features. It contains only two types of amino acids (rather than the estimated 20 amino acids that synthesize millions of different proteins needed for specific body functions), it is very short and it could have emerged spontaneously on the early Earth in the right conditions.

The metal cluster at the core of this peptide resembles the structure and chemistry of iron-sulfur minerals that were abundant in early Earth oceans. The peptide can also charge and discharge electrons repeatedly without falling apart, according to Nanda, a resident faculty member at the Center for Advanced Technology and Medicine.

"Modern proteins called ferredoxins do this, shuttling electrons around the cell to promote metabolism," said senior author Professor Paul G. Falkowski, who leads Rutgers' Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Laboratory. "A primordial peptide like the one we studied may have served a similar function in the origins of life."

Falkowski is the principal investigator for a NASA-funded ENIGMA project led by Rutgers scientists that aims to understand how protein catalysts evolved at the start of life. Nanda leads one team that will characterize the full potential of the primordial peptide and continue to develop other molecules that may have played key roles in the origins of life.

With computers, Rutgers scientists have smashed and dissected nearly 10,000 proteins and pinpointed four "Legos of life" - core chemical structures that can be stacked to form the innumerable proteins inside all organisms. The small primordial peptide may be a precursor to the longer Legos of life, and scientists can now run experiments on how such peptides may have functioned in early-life chemistry.

###

Study co-lead authors are John Dongun Kim, postdoctoral researcher, and graduate student Douglas H. Pike. Other authors include Alexei M. Tyryshkin and G.V.T. Swapna, staff scientists; Hagai Raanan, postdoctoral researcher; and Gaetano T. Montelione, Jerome and Lorraine Aresty Chair and distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. He is also a resident faculty member at the Center for Advanced Technology and Medicine.

Media Contact

John Cramer
john.cramer@rutgers.edu
848-932-7311

 @RutgersU

http://www.rutgers.edu 

John Cramer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
https://news.rutgers.edu/rutgers-scientists-identify-protein-may-have-existed-when-life-began/20180829#.W4gyjuhKi70
http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jacs.8b07553

Further reports about: Electrons Molecular Ecology amino acids peptides proteins

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Too much of a good thing: overactive immune cells trigger inflammation
16.09.2019 | Universität Basel

nachricht The sleep neuron in threadworms is also a stop neuron
16.09.2019 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Tomorrow´s coolants of choice

Scientists assess the potential of magnetic-cooling materials

Later during this century, around 2060, a paradigm shift in global energy consumption is expected: we will spend more energy for cooling than for heating....

Im Focus: The working of a molecular string phone

Researchers from the Department of Atomically Resolved Dynamics of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg, the University of Potsdam (both in Germany) and the University of Toronto (Canada) have pieced together a detailed time-lapse movie revealing all the major steps during the catalytic cycle of an enzyme. Surprisingly, the communication between the protein units is accomplished via a water-network akin to a string telephone. This communication is aligned with a ‘breathing’ motion, that is the expansion and contraction of the protein.

This time-lapse sequence of structures reveals dynamic motions as a fundamental element in the molecular foundations of biology.

Im Focus: Milestones on the Way to the Nuclear Clock

Two research teams have succeeded simultaneously in measuring the long-sought Thorium nuclear transition, which enables extremely precise nuclear clocks. TU Wien (Vienna) is part of both teams.

If you want to build the most accurate clock in the world, you need something that "ticks" very fast and extremely precise. In an atomic clock, electrons are...

Im Focus: Graphene sets the stage for the next generation of THz astronomy detectors

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology have demonstrated a detector made from graphene that could revolutionize the sensors used in next-generation space telescopes. The findings were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.

Beyond superconductors, there are few materials that can fulfill the requirements needed for making ultra-sensitive and fast terahertz (THz) detectors for...

Im Focus: Physicists from Stuttgart prove the existence of a supersolid state of matte

A supersolid is a state of matter that can be described in simplified terms as being solid and liquid at the same time. In recent years, extensive efforts have been devoted to the detection of this exotic quantum matter. A research team led by Tilman Pfau and Tim Langen at the 5th Institute of Physics of the University of Stuttgart has succeeded in proving experimentally that the long-sought supersolid state of matter exists. The researchers report their results in Nature magazine.

In our everyday lives, we are familiar with matter existing in three different states: solid, liquid, or gas. However, if matter is cooled down to extremely...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Society 5.0: putting humans at the heart of digitalisation

10.09.2019 | Event News

Interspeech 2019 conference: Alexa and Siri in Graz

04.09.2019 | Event News

AI for Laser Technology Conference: optimizing the use of lasers with artificial intelligence

29.08.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Too much of a good thing: overactive immune cells trigger inflammation

16.09.2019 | Life Sciences

Scientists create a nanomaterial that is both twisted and untwisted at the same time

16.09.2019 | Materials Sciences

Researchers have identified areas of the retina that change in mild Alzheimer's disease

16.09.2019 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>