In their work, Prof. Yana Bromberg and her associate colleagues at Rutgers University-New Brunswick are interested in the appearance of primitive life on Earth from simple, non-living materials.
We have very little information about how life originated on this planet, and our work provides a new explanation, explains in a press release the Pre Bromberg, an expert in deciphering the molecular machinery at the origin of life.
His team first wanted to define what are the properties that define life as we know it. She concluded that all early life must have collected and used energy from sources such as the sun or hydrothermal vents.
On a molecular level, this would mean that the ability to mix electrons is essential for life., explains the press release.
Since metals are the best elements for electron transfer and most biological activities are carried out by proteins, the researchers decided to explore the combination of the two, i.e. proteins that bind metals, continues the press release.
The team therefore compared all current protein structures that bind metals to find common features, assuming that these features were present in ancestral proteins and that they branched out to create the range of proteins that exist. today.
Understanding the evolution of protein structures involves knowing how new folds arise from existing folds. To achieve this, the researchers designed a computational technique that found that the vast majority of currently existing metal-binding proteins are quite similar.
regardless of the type of metal they bind to, the organism they come from, or the functionality assigned to the protein as a whole.
” We found that the metal-binding cores of existing proteins are indeed similar, even though the proteins themselves are not. »
Also, we found that these metal-binding cores are often made up of repeating substructures, much like Lego blocks. Curiously, these blocks were also found in other regions of proteins, not just in metal-binding cores, and in many other proteins that were not considered in our study., adds the professor.
According to the researchers, their observations suggest that rearrangements of these small building blocks could have had a single or a small number of common ancestors and have given rise to life as we know it.
In addition, the present work could also contribute to the search for life on other planets and celestial objects.
Our discovery of the structural building blocks could also be relevant to synthetic biology efforts, where scientists seek to reconstruct proteins, concludes Professor Bromberg.
The details of this work are published in the journal Science AdvancesHave (New window)Have (in English).