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Evolution of life on Earth may hold key to finding life in outer space

also help guide the search for life elsewhere in the universe, which is an important NASA objective."

The goal of Fox's grant ?"The Origins of Translation and Early Evolution of Life" ?is to understand when and how the ribosome (or cellular protein synthesis machinery) came into existence. Cellular protein synthesis is the process whereby RNA copies genetic information from DNA and translates it into proteins that are essential to the structure and function of all living cells and viruses and play a role in immune response. Fox and his group are examining the various components of the ribosome machinery trying to learn what parts came first and what was added later.

"Since many of the components of the ribosome are shared by all organisms, we know this machinery is very, very old," Fox said. "If we can discover the earliest aspects, then scientists may be able to devise experiments to see how simple RNAs might have given rise to this machinery. This information would help us to better understand how life evolved on Earth and how ribosomes actually work, which remains a fundamental problem in biochemistry."

One of only a small number of groups in the nation working on the history and evolution of the core ribosomal machinery, Fox and his team of scientists focus on comparing the sequences and 3-D shapes of biological molecules. Their research benefits greatly from the many ongoing genome sequencing projects.

"We do a lot of what is called bioinformatics, comparing molecules from different organisms," he said.

Fox's group recently received notification of two new NASA awards. One, from the Exobiology Program, will extend the work on translation to look for evidence of the RNA world preserved in extant genomes. The other, from NASA's Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument Development Program, will conduct research to develop tests for the presence of living microorganisms that can be conducted robotically on other planeta
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Source:University of Houston


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