Life on Earth could have started with the pioneering “Nickelback” peptide. (Image rendering: Nanda Lab)
Life on Earth could have started with “Nickelback”. Of course, this is not a Canadian rock band, but a precursor to Protein. This ‘leading peptide’ could help in the search for life on exoplanets.
Somewhere in the primordial soup on Earth, life as we know it today arose between 3.5 and 3.8 billion years ago. Science is still divided on the exact processes.
In what is called prebiotic evolution, organic molecules, prebiotics, and ultimately living organisms, biological systems may have arisen from inorganic molecules – through the action of energy.
Something must have made this change in motion. Researchers at Rutgers University in the US state of New Jersey now believe they have found such a catalyst.
The so-called ‘lead peptide’, which is the precursor of the protein, consists of 13 amino acids and two nickel ions – which is why it is called ‘Nickelback’.
The team led by Vikas Nanda, a professor in the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers University, hypothesizes that nickel was abundant in the early oceans.
Nickel atoms, attached to an amino acid peptide, become powerful catalysts, Nanda explains. This would attract protons and electrons and produce hydrogen. The latter will be an important source of energy to fuel your metabolism.
According to Nanda, there are many theories about the origin of life. However, these ideas have rarely been validated by laboratory tests. According to Nanda, their experimental results showed in communicationThe formation of simple enzymes for protein metabolism was not only possible.
These are also very stable and reactive, which means they can withstand high temperatures and acids. This makes them a reasonable starting point for life, according to the researcher.
Despite their enormous complexity, modern enzymes likely evolved from simple peptide precursors on early Earth.
Researchers around Nanda also see Nickelback as support for further searches for life – emerging – on exoplanets. So NASA can search for this particular biosignature.
The study (“Design of a minimally invasive nickel dimer peptide”) is published in the journal Science Advances published.
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