Chemical processes of the first Cell are still important

  • July 25, 2014
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Chemical processes of the first Cell are still important


Some of the chemical processes that first gave rise to life may be still at work in living cells, according to scientists.

These ancient chemical reactions are thought by some scientists to have taken place in a “primordial soup” where life originated, such as a pond or ocean. The research, published July 24 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, argues that cells in plants, yeast and very likely also in animals still perform these processes, some four billion years old.

The primordial soup theory suggests that life began in a pond or ocean as a result of the combination of metals, gases from the atmosphere and some form of energy, such as a lightning strike. This would have resulted in the formation of building blocks of proteins, or molecules used as the ingredients for life forms.

The new research discusses how small pockets of a cell continue to perform similar reactions in our bodies. These reactions involve iron, sulfur and electrochemistry and are still important for energygetting processes such as respiration in animals and photosynthesis in plants.

“Cells confine certain bits of dangerous chemistry to specific compartments of the cell,” said lead researcher Janneke Balk of the at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. “For example small pockets of a cell called mitochondria deal with electrochemistry and also with toxic sulfur metabolism. These are very ancient reactions thought to have been important for the origin of life.

“Our research has shown that a toxic sulfur compound is being exported by a mitochondrial transport protein to other parts of the cell. We need sulfur for making ironsulfur catalysts, again a very ancient chemical process.” A catalyst is a molecule that facilitates chemical reactions between other molecules.

“The work shows that parts of the primordial soup in which life arose has been maintained in our cells today, and is in fact harnessed to maintain important biological reactions,” Balk said.

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