Navigation Links
Transition metal catalysts could be key to origin of life, scientists report
Date:9/3/2010

MBL, WOODS HOLE, MAOne of the big, unsolved problems in explaining how life arose on Earth is a chicken-and-egg paradox: How could the basic biochemicalssuch as amino acids and nucleotideshave arisen before the biological catalysts (proteins or ribozymes) existed to carry out their formation?

In a paper appearing in the current issue of The Biological Bulletin, scientists propose that a third type of catalyst could have jumpstarted metabolism and life itself, deep in hydrothermal ocean vents.

According to the scientists' model, which is experimentally testable, molecular structures involving transition metal elements (iron, copper, nickel, etc.) and ligands (small organic molecules) could have catalyzed the synthesis of basic biochemicals (monomers) that acted as building blocks for more complex molecules, leading ultimately to the origin of life. The model has been put forth by Harold Morowitz of George Mason University (GMU), Vijayasarathy Srinivasan of GMU, and Eric Smith of the Santa Fe Institute.

"There has been a big problem in the origin of life (theory) for the last 50 years in that you need large protein molecules to be catalysts to make monomers, but you need monomers to make the catalysts," Morowitz says. However, he suggests, "You can start out with these small metal-ligand catalysts, and they'll build up the monomers that can be used to make the (large protein catalysts)."

A transition metal atom can act as the core of a metal-ligand complex, in which it is bound to and surrounded by other ligands. Morowitz and his colleagues propose that simple transition metal-ligand complexes in hydrothermal ocean vents catalyzed reactions that gave rise to more complex molecules. These increasingly complex molecules then acted as ligands in increasingly efficient transition metal-ligand complex catalysts. Gradually, the basic molecular ingredients of metabolism accumulated and were able to self-organize into networks of chemical reactions that laid the foundation for life.

"We used to think if we could understand what carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur were doing, we would immediately be able to understand biology," Morowitz says, listing elements that constitute a large proportion of Earth's biomass. "But now we're finding that these other fairly rare elements, transition metals, are necessary in biology, so we ask, 'What was their role in the origin of life?'"

The proposal suggests that the rise of life forms is a natural consequence of the unique properties of transition metals and ligand field theory, which describes the characteristics of ligand complexes.

"The idea has emerged from a study of the periodic table. We strongly feel that unless you're able to see how life comes about in some formal chemical way, you're never really going to solve the problem," Morowitz says.

Morowitz and his colleagues are preparing experiments to test the catalytic properties of transition metal-ligand complexes built with different types of ligands. Ligands known to bind tightly to transition metals include molecules produced during the course of the reductive citric acid cycle, a series of biochemical reactions essential for many microorganisms.

"We think life probably began with the reductive citric acid cycle, and there is evidence that under hydrothermal vent conditions some of the cycle's intermediates form," Morowitz says. "We are going to start with these molecules and mix them with various transition metals, cook them at different temperatures for a while, and see what kinds of catalysts we've made."

Such experiments could reveal what kinds of catalytic reactions took place to lay the foundations for life. The hypothesis also allows for the possibility that life could have arisen more than once.

"Life could have originated multiples times, and, if we find life elsewhere in the universe, it could be very similar to the life we know here because it will be based on the same transition metals and ligands," Morowitz says. "It's a conjecture at the moment, but it could become a formal scientific core for the emergence of life."


'/>"/>

Contact: Carol Schachinger
cschachi@mbl.edu
508-289-7149
Marine Biological Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Timely technology sees tiny transitions
2. Were short warm periods typical for transitions between interglacial and glacial epochs?
3. NSF awards Life in Transition grants to University of Oklahoma professors
4. Fossils suggest earlier land-water transition of tetrapod
5. Details of evolutionary transition from fish to land animals revealed
6. Microbial worlds use of metals mostly unmapped
7. The Reaxys Ph.D. Prize awards innovative research in organic, organometallic and inorganic chemistry
8. Coastal birds carry toxic ocean metals inland
9. Tyco International To Pursue Spin-Off of Electrical & Metal Products Business
10. Synthetic protein mimics structure, function of metalloprotein in nature
11. First metallic nanoparticles resistant to extreme heat
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Transition metal catalysts could be key to origin of life, scientists report
(Date:2/1/2016)... -- Wocket® smart wallet ( www.wocketwallet.com ) announces the launch of a new ... Las Vegas , where Joey appeared at the ... Las Vegas , where Joey appeared at the Wocket booth to ... was filmed at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES2016) in Las ... and greet fans. --> --> ...
(Date:1/22/2016)... January 22, 2016 ... addition of the  "Global Behavioral Biometric ... --> http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/4lmf2s/global_behavioral ) has ... Behavioral Biometric Market 2016-2020"  report to ... and Markets ( http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/4lmf2s/global_behavioral ) has announced ...
(Date:1/20/2016)... 20, 2016  Synaptics Incorporated (NASDAQ: SYNA ... today announced sampling of S1423, its newest ClearPad ... small screen applications including smartwatches, fitness trackers, and ... and rectangular shapes, as well as thick and ... moisture on screen, while wearing gloves, and supports ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:2/3/2016)... WARRINGTON, Pa. , Feb. 3, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... biotechnology company focused on developing aerosolized KL4 surfactant ... Board of Directors has approved an inducement award ... Craig Fraser , its newly appointed President and ... the Board,s Compensation Committee on February 1, 2016 ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... 2016 Ascendis Pharma A/S (Nasdaq: ASND ... innovative TransCon technology to address significant unmet medical needs, ... conference.Event:2016 Leerink Partners Global Healthcare Conference Location: , ... 10, 2016 Time:  , 11:55am EST ... An audio webcast of this event will be ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... 3, 2016 New Jersey Health Foundation (NJHF) ... million for researchers in New Jersey ... that demonstrates exciting potential.   James ... the New Jersey Health Foundation Research Grant Program ... educational institutions— Princeton University, Rutgers University, Rowan University ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... ... February 03, 2016 , ... ProMIS Neurosciences ... targets (epitopes) specific to misfolded, propagating strains of Amyloid beta involved in Alzheimer’s ... therapeutics for Alzheimer’s. , Following on from the first misfolded Amyloid beta target ...
Breaking Biology Technology: