Quantifying structural relationships of metal-binding sites suggests origins of biological electron transfer

Abstract

Computational exploration of similarities among metal-binding protein structural motifs elucidates the origins of life. Biological redox reactions drive planetary biogeochemical cycles. Using a novel, structure-guided sequence analysis of proteins, we explored the patterns of evolution of enzymes responsible for these reactions. Our analysis reveals that the folds that bind transition metal–containing ligands have similar structural geometry and amino acid sequences across the full diversity of proteins. Similarity across folds reflects the availability of key transition metals over geological time and strongly suggests that transition metal–ligand binding had a small number of common peptide origins. We observe that structures central to our similarity network come primarily from oxidoreductases, suggesting that ancestral peptides may have also facilitated electron transfer reactions. Last, our results reveal that the earliest biologically functional peptides were likely available before the assembly of fully functional protein domains over 3.8 billion years ago. Thus, life is a special, very complex form of motion of matter, but this form did not always exist, and it is not separated from inorganic nature by an impassable abyss; rather, it arose from inorganic nature as a new property in the process of evolution of the world. We must study the history of this evolution if we want to solve the problem of the origin of life. [A. I. Oparin (1)]

Publication
Science Advances
Yana Bromberg
Yana Bromberg
Principal Investigator - Associate Professor of Bioinformatics

My research focuses on deciphering the DNA blueprints of life’s molecular machinery

Ariel Aptekmann
Ariel Aptekmann
PostDoctoral Associate

Understanding the language of life

Yannick Mahlich
Yannick Mahlich
PostDoctoral Associate

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