In early evolution, the duplication of genes is an important event that resulted in new genes and genetically novel organisms. For instance, a small soluble iron-sulfur protein known as ferredoxin is found in both modern and ancient entities. Indeed, this commonplace molecule is responsible for mediating electron transfer in a range of metabolic reactions.
Ancient protein fuels modern cells
Now, a study led by researchers at Rice University reverse-engineers a synthetic primordial ferredoxin protein and inserts it into a living bacteria. Accordingly, it successfully powered the cell’s metabolism, growth, and reproduction. The team states their results come closer to understanding how life arose on earth. Similarly, these results open a window on the pathways life may have taken on exobiological worlds. The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Previous studies show life on earth may have arisen near hydrothermal vents rich in iron and sulfur. Therefore, the earliest cells incorporated these elements into small peptides. Consequently, these became the first basic ferredoxins, proteins which transport electrons within the cell to support metabolism.
Subsequently, as cells evolved, ferredoxins mutated via gene duplication into more complex forms. Presently, ferredoxins derived from this simple ancestor are found in modern bacteria, plant, and animal cells. The current study investigates the theoretical primordial gene duplication origins of bacterial ferredoxins, through a series of synthetic constructs.
The current study compares ferredoxin molecules present in living things to design ancestral forms hypothesized to exist at an earlier stage in the evolution of life. Next, the genome of the bacteria E. coli was minimized to remove the gene it uses to produce ferredoxins.
Finally, an artificial gene encoding for the simpler version of the protein was implanted into the E.coli. Results show different variations of the primordial ferredoxin protein bound two iron-sulfur clusters and were able to support electron transfer in vivo in E. coli.
Ancient proteins can sustain life
The team states live E. coli colonies grew more slowly than usual with the ancient synthetic proteins functioning well enough to transfer electrons between molecules. They go on to add the ferredoxins appearing in modern life are complex, however, a stripped-down version has been engineered still capable of supporting life. Hence, there is potential to build on this simple version for possible industrial applications.
The team surmises they have successfully inserted a synthetic primordial protein into living cells to identify the origins of metabolism. For the future, the researchers state understanding how metabolism works could allow the global medical community to program microbes for all sorts of uses. For example, energy storage, biofuel production, or even fighting viruses.
Source: Rutgers University
Don’t miss the latest discoveries from the health innovator community:
Michelle Petersen is the founder of Healthinnovations, having worked in the health and science industry for over 21 years, which includes tenure within the NHS and Oxford University. Healthinnovations is a publication that has reported on, influenced, and researched current and future innovations in health for the past decade.
Michelle has been picked up as an expert writer for Informa publisher’s Clinical Trials community, as well as being listed as a blog source by the world’s leading medical journals, including the acclaimed Nature-Springer journal series.
Healthinnovations is currently indexed by the trusted Altmetric and PlumX metrics systems, respectively, as a blog source for published research globally. Healthinnovations is also featured in the world-renowned BioPortfolio, BioPortfolio.com, the life science, pharmaceutical and healthcare portal.
Most recently the Texas A&M University covered The Top 10 Healthinnovations series on their site with distinguished Professor Stephen Maren calling the inclusion of himself and his team on the list a reflection of “the hard work and dedication of my students and trainees”.
Michelle Petersen’s copy was used in the highly successful marketing campaign for the mega-hit film ‘Jumanji: The Next Level, starring Jack Black, Karen Gilian, Kevin Hart and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Michelle Petersen’s copywriting was part of the film’s coverage by the Republic TV network. Republic TV is the most-watched English language TV channel in India since its inception in 2017.
An avid campaigner in the fight against child sex abuse and trafficking, Michelle is a passionate humanist striving for a better quality of life for all humans by helping to provide traction for new technologies and techniques within healthcare.