Profound Discovery on Origins of Life on Earth – Evolution of Metal-Binding Proteins

Origin of Life Artist Concept

Researchers explored the evolution of metal-binding proteins across billions of years.

Addressing one of the most profoundly unanswered questions in biology, a Rutgers-led team has discovered the structures of proteins that may be responsible for the origins of life in the primordial soup of ancient Earth.

The study appears in the journal Science Advances.

The researchers explored how primitive life may have originated on our planet from simple, non-living materials. They asked what properties define life as we know it and concluded that anything alive would have needed to collect and use energy, from sources such as the Sun or hydrothermal vents.

In molecular terms, this would mean that the ability to shuffle electrons was paramount to life. Since the best elements for electron transfer are metals (think standard electrical wires) and most biological activities are carried out by proteins, the researchers decided to explore the combination of the two — that is, proteins that bind metals.

Origins of Life Primordial Soup of Ancient Earth

Addressing one of the most profoundly unanswered questions in biology, a Rutgers-led team has discovered the structures of proteins that may be responsible for the origins of life in the primordial soup of ancient Earth. Credit: Rutgers

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

Evolution of protein structures entails understanding how new folds arose from previously existing ones, so the researchers designed a computational method that found the vast majority of currently existing metal-binding proteins are somewhat 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 saw that the metal-binding cores of existing proteins are indeed similar even though the proteins themselves may not be,” said the study’s lead author Yana Bromberg, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “We also saw that these metal-binding cores are often made up of repeated substructures, kind of like LEGO blocks. Curiously, these 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 little building blocks may have had a single or a small number of common ancestors and given rise to the whole range of proteins and their functions that are currently available — that is, to life as we know it.”

“We have very little information about how life arose on this planet, and our work contributes a previously unavailable explanation,” said Bromberg, whose research focuses on deciphering the DNA blueprints of life’s molecular machinery. “This explanation could also potentially contribute to our search for life on other planets and planetary bodies. Our finding of the specific structural building blocks is also possibly relevant for synthetic biology efforts, where scientists aim to construct specifically active proteins anew.”

Reference: “Quantifying structural relationships of metal-binding sites suggests origins of biological electron transfer” by Yana Bromberg, Ariel A. Aptekmann, Yannick Mahlich, Linda Cook, Stefan Senn, Maximillian Miller, Vikas Nanda, Diego U. Ferreiro and Paul G. Falkowski, 14 January 2022, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abj3984

The study, funded by NASA, also included researchers from the University of Buenos Aires.

9 Comments on "Profound Discovery on Origins of Life on Earth – Evolution of Metal-Binding Proteins"

  1. Lies! GOD created life. I’m the smartest person alive – I should know. And I also carry the bible with me when ever I walk around!

    • Open your Bible and read chapter six of Matthew.

      Does your Bible have Christ uttering the name of an Egyption god at the end of the Lords prayer, or not? Some versions do, others don’t, and that means either someone put it into gods mouth or someone took it out.

      Which? And and, naturally, who, where, when, and how?

  2. Awwwwww, poor little God (of-the-gaps), one of his last tiny hidey-holes (Abiogenesis) is getting flush out

    • Torbjörn Larsson | January 15, 2022 at 12:35 am | Reply

      It needed to – it stank. (I mean, the first comment isn’t really funny, the described behavior has advanced to tragedy.👹)

  3. Torbjörn Larsson | January 15, 2022 at 12:31 am | Reply

    It is of course interesting to study the split between geology of recurrent formations and biology of reproducing populations with evolutionary methods, and this paper is an advance on methods as well as showing how early cells could use many metals. But they assume that the half alive early cell that still was relying on the environment for many abiotic “bioservices” needed enzymes, which we now know is unlikely. On the contrary, their result says that protein building blocks evolved before proteins evolved to hold catalysts.

    This makes evolutionary sense since modern cells retain as evolutionary “frozen in” a two stage filter, toghether highly effective, against using the wrong mirror copy of abiotic amino acids. The genetic machinery of our half alive ancestor therefore evolved in an environment with uptake of abiotic biomolecules and it didn’t primarily use proteins for mirror-copy controlled catalysis yet.

    It appears biogeoscience has successfully predicted how the half alive cells evolved to do without the energetics of catalysts.

    “The 402 reactions of the biosynthetic core trace to the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), and reveal that synthesis of LUCA’s chemical constituents required no external energy inputs such as electric discharge, UV-light or phosphide minerals. The biosynthetic reactions of LUCA uncover a natural thermodynamic tendency of metabolism to unfold from energy released by reactions of H2, CO2, NH3, H2S, and phosphate.”

    The first prediction of the “half alive” universal common ancestor was in 2016 [“The physiology and habitat of the last universal common ancestor”, Weiss et al., Nature Microbiology, The physiology and habitat of the last universal common ancestor – Nature Microbiology ]. And the successful test above was based on it and published recently [“Energy at Origins: Favorable Thermodynamics of Biosynthetic Reactions in the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA)”, Wimmer et al., Frontiers in Microbiology, December 13 2021, Energy at Origins: Favorable Thermodynamics of Biosynthetic Reactions in the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) ].

    The half alive optimal conditions are ~ 80 degC serpentinizing hydrothermal systems at high pressures (which pressures promote products), and we still have those. But we also have free oxygen and competing existing populations which likely prevents it right now.

    Under wide conditions of “just so” wet terrestrial planets, geology has a tendency to differentiate the planet and biology has a tendency to self assemble.

    • “… biology has a tendency to self assemble.”

      Upon what evidence are you basing that statement? Decades of studies have actually shown just the opposite.

  4. Robert Andrew Brown | January 15, 2022 at 7:10 am | Reply

    ^ Neat work and deduction 🙂

    My own recent contribution to the question of the origin of life, a preprint, “Predestined? A Universal Evolutionary Origin of Life – 1 Silicate ‘Shell-Cells’ – a Zeolite-Exoskeleton-Proto-2 RNA, Selecting ‘Exactly’ 22 Amino Acids?”, which also ‘predicts’ that early proteins were likely short, and determined by abiotic availability and amino side chain ability to access and egress a proto-RNA with a zeolite tubule exoskeleton, thus likely limited in scope, and logically also predictable (with enough computing power etc). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/357622478_Predestined_A_Universal_Evolutionary_Origin_of_Life_-_Silicate_'Shell-Cells'_-a_Zeolite-Exoskeleton-Proto-_2

  5. Babu G. Ranganathan | January 15, 2022 at 9:16 am | Reply

    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)

    THE CELL could not have evolved. A partially evolved cell would quickly disintegrate under the effects of random forces of the environment, especially without the protection of a complete and fully functioning cell membrane. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years for chance to make it complete and living! In fact, it couldn’t have even reached the partially evolved state.

    CATCH-22 FOR EVOLUTIONARY ORIGIN OF LIFE

    Just having the right materials, elements, and conditions do not mean that life can arise by chance.

    Miller, in his famous experiment in 1953 showed that individual amino acids (the building blocks of life) could come into existence by chance. But, it’s not enough just to have amino acids. The various amino acids that make-up life must link together in a precise sequence, just like the letters in a sentence, to form functioning protein molecules. If they’re not in the right sequence the protein molecules won’t work. It has never been shown that various amino acids can bind together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules. Even the simplest cell is made up of many millions of various protein molecules.

    What many don’t realize is that although oxygen is necessary for life’s processes, the presence of oxygen would prevent life from coming into being. This is because oxygen is destructive unless there are mechanisms already in place to control, direct, and regulate it, such as what we find in already existing forms of life.

    RNA and DNA are made up of molecules (nucleic acids) that must also exist in the right sequence. Furthermore, none of these sequential molecules, proteins, DNA, RNA, can function outside of a complete and living cell and all are mutually dependent on one another. One cannot come into existence without the other.

    Mathematicians have said any event in the universe with odds of 10 to 50th power or greater is impossible! The probability of just a single average size protein molecule arising by chance is 10 to the 65th power. The late great British scientist Sir Frederick Hoyle calculated that the odds of even the simplest cell coming into existence by chance is 10 to the 40,000th power! How large is this? Consider that the total number of atoms in our universe is 10 to the 82nd power.

    The cell could not have evolved. A partially evolved cell would quickly disintegrate under the effects of random forces of the environment, especially without the protection of a complete and fully functioning cell membrane. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years for chance to make it complete and living! In fact, it couldn’t have even reached the partially evolved state.

    Alien beings, even if they do exist, could not have evolved. How could they have survived millions of years while the very biological structures, organs, and systems necessary for their survival were supposedly still evolving? Life, in any form (even a single-celled organism), must be complete, fully integrated, and fully-functioning from the very start to be fit for survival.

    Of course, once there is a complete and living cell then the code and mechanisms exist to direct the formation of more cells. The problem for evolutionists is how did the cell originate when there were no directing code and mechanisms in nature. Natural laws may explain how a cell or airplane works but mere undirected natural laws could not have brought about the existence of either.

    What about synthetic life? Scientists didn’t create life itself. What they’ve done is, by using intelligent design and sophisticated technology, scientists built DNA code from scratch and then they implanted that man-made DNA into an already existing living cell and alter that cell. That’s what synthetic life is.

    Through genetic engineering scientists have been able to produce new forms of life by altering already existing forms of life, but they have never created life from non-living matter. Even if they do, it won’t be by chance but by intelligent design. That doesn’t help the theory of evolution.

    What about natural selection? Natural selection doesn’t create or produce anything. It can only “select” from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. If a variation occurs that helps a species survive, that survival is called ” natural selection.” It’s a passive process. There’s no conscious selection by nature, and natural selection only operates in nature once there is life and reproduction and not before, so it would not be of assistance to the origin of life.

    Science can’t prove we’re here by chance or design. Neither was observed. Both are positions of faith. The issue is which faith is best supported by science. Let the scientific arguments of both sides be presented.

    Read my popular Internet articles:

    THE NATURAL LIMITS TO EVOLUTION
    ANY LIFE ON MARS CAME FROM EARTH

    Visit my Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

    Author of the popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

    *I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I’ve been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who in The East” for my writings on religion and science.

  6. It does not matter if humans presently know where life originates; we do know it will not be religious deities. Fictional characters will never be the answer. Please start thinking logically, as no one who isn’t indoctrinated will take you seriously.

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