A new study reveals that a group of ancient enzymes adapted to substantial changes in ocean temperature and acidity during the last four billion years, providing evidence that life on Early Earth evolved from a much hotter, more acidic environment to the cooler, less acidic global environment that exists today.
The study found that a group of ancient enzymes known as thioredoxin were chemically stable at temperatures up to 32 degrees Celsius (58 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than their modern counterparts. The enzymes, which were several billion years old, also showed increased activity at lower pH levels -- which correspond to greater acidity.
"This study shows that a group of ubiquitous proteins operated in a hot, acidic environment during early life, which supports the view that the environment progressively cooled and became more alkaline between four billion and 500 million years ago," said Eric Gaucher, an associate professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The study, which was published April 3 in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, was conducted by an international team of researchers from Georgia Tech, Columbia University and the Universidad de Granada in Spain.
Major funding for this study was provided by two grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to Georgia Tech, a grant from the National Institutes of Health to Columbia University, and a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation to the Universidad de Granada.
Using a technique called ancestral sequence reconstruction, Gaucher and Georgia Tech biology graduate student Zi-Ming Zhao reconstructed seven ancient thioredoxin enzymes from the three domains of life -- archaea, bacteria and eukaryote -- that date back between one and four billion years old.
To resurrect these enzymes, which are found in nearly all known modern organi
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