Metal-binding proteins will help to learn about the first stages of evolution

(ORDO NEWS) — A new study has shown that different metal-binding proteins have similar regions and are made up of a set of universal building blocks. They may have had a common origin and may have played an important role at the dawn of evolution.

The problem of the emergence of living things from inanimate matter is one of the most fundamental and complex in biology. Scientists have proposed many scenarios for the appearance of the first living organisms, but they all remain hypothetical. An important aspect of this issue is the emergence of metabolism, that is, metabolism.

Metabolism is primarily the satisfaction of the cell ‘s need for energy, which at the molecular level is reduced to the transport of electrons. For him, in turn, the so-called redox reactions are necessary.

These chemical transformations often involve various metals such as iron, which can accept and donate electrons. And since all biochemical processes involve proteins, a new article in Science Advances looks at both at the same time. That is, proteins that are able to bind metals.

Scientists used the methods of bioinformatics, namely the comparison of protein sequences, taking into account the structures of molecules. It turned out that proteins that bind various metals consist of universal building blocks that can be “shuffled”.

At the same time, it is not so important which of the metals a particular protein molecule holds – iron, copper, manganese, or something else.

“We noticed that the metal-binding parts of different proteins are actually very similar, even if the protein molecules themselves are very different,” says Jana Bromberg, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers University, New Jersey.

She led an international team of researchers funded by NASA. “In addition, it turned out that the metal-binding base often consists of the same repeating structures – it turns out something like a LEGO constructor. It is curious that such building blocks can be found in other parts of the molecule , and not only in this specialized one.

Similar blocks have been found in many other proteins that we do not consider in our work,” continues the professor.

The authors suggest that all the variety of proteins known to us originally came from one group, the so-called oxidoreductases – enzymes necessary for electron transfer.

According to their calculations, these oldest biologically active molecules already existed 3.8 billion years ago. The new article has become an important contribution to the study of the early stages of the evolution of protein molecules, and not only them.

We still know very little about how life originated on our planet. The authors of this study believe that their result provides insight into the ancient and primitive metabolism that the very first life forms had. The new data could also be useful for synthetic biology and the search for extraterrestrial life.

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