Without ancestral gene life on Earth might not have evolved beyond slime

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have identified a common ancestral gene that enabled the evolution of advanced life over a billion years ago.

The gene, found in all complex organisms, including plants and animals, encodes for a large group of enzymes known as protein kinases that enabled cells to be larger and to rapidly transfer information from one part to another.

"If the duplications and subsequent mutations of this gene during evolution didn't happen, then life would be completely different today," said Steven Pelech, a professor in Division of Neurology in the UBC Faculty of Medicine. "The most advanced life on our planet would probably still be bacterial slime."

Plants, animals, mushrooms and more all exist because they are made up of eukaryotic cells that are larger and far more complex than bacteria. Inside of these eukaryotic cells are hundreds of organelles that perform diverse functions to keep them living, just as different organs do for the human body.

The new research, published this week in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, identifies the gene that gave rise to protein kinases. On a cellular scale, these highly interactive signaling proteins play a role similar to the neurons in the brain by transferring information throughout the cell by a process known as .

This ability to transmit signals from one part of the cell to another not only enabled cells to become more complex internally, but also allowed to come together to form systems, paving the way for the evolution of intelligent life.

Research into these enzymes has become very important to medicine. More than 400 human diseases like cancer and diabetes are linked to problems with cell signaling. Disease occurs when a cell gets misinformed or confused. Today about one-third of all pharmaceutical drug development is targeted at protein kinases.

For more than 30 years, researchers have known that most protein kinases came from a common ancestor because their genes are so similar.

"From sequencing the genomes of humans, we knew that about 500 for different protein kinases all had similar blueprints," said Pelech. "Our new research revealed that the gene probably originated from bacteria for facilitating the synthesis of proteins and then mutated to acquire completely new functions."

The same gene that gave rise to also led to the formation of a group of enzymes know as choline and ethanolamine kinases. The choline kinase enzyme is critical for the production of phosphatidylcholine, a major component of the membranes that wrap around and their organelles, but is missing from bacteria.

Pelech says that the approach they used to study the evolution of this gene could be adapted to study other important protein families and could eventually lead to the creation of a version of the evolutionary tree of life.

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More information: Shenshen Lai et al. Evolutionary Ancestry of Eukaryotic Protein Kinases and Choline Kinases, Journal of Biological Chemistry (2016). DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M115.691428
Journal information: Journal of Biological Chemistry

Citation: Without ancestral gene life on Earth might not have evolved beyond slime (2016, March 3) retrieved 21 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-03-ancestral-gene-life-earth-evolved.html
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User comments

Mar 03, 2016
Ill say it first: Aliens

Mar 03, 2016
I see your Aliens and I'll reply with my:
God exists

Mar 03, 2016
BartV: Imagine you find a book, let's say the Bible, only because of its common cultural sharing. You find a French bible, and an Italian bible and a Spanish bible. They're not exactly the same, but comparing them, the words look somewhat similar, and you could probably tell they're related. Now you find an Old French bible, an Old Spanish, and a Latin one. Ah, now you can see the older variations of the language look more alike, and they all look a lot like the Latin one. Each is still different in some ways, but you can see the... dare I say... evolution from one language to the next.

That's what they find here. Not that this gene is precisely the same among all organisms everywhere, but that a gene that roughly encodes the same "book" appears in complex organisms. And that gene varies in a way that aligns with other data (like fossils) to support the theory of organisms evolving from one to the other.

Mar 03, 2016
Each is still different in some ways, but you can see the... dare I say... evolution from one language to the next.

Ooooh...that's a nasty line of argument. Well played, sir. Well played.

Mar 03, 2016
Each is still different in some ways, but you can see the... dare I say... evolution from one language to the next.

Ooooh...that's a nasty line of argument. Well played, sir. Well played.
100 stars to shavera!

not that bart or viko et al will listen, mind you
but AWESOME, relevant, demonstrative of how evolution works, etc

throw in the Italian language and you have a coup de grace

Mar 04, 2016
These Bibles ...are copies, albeit imperfect ones.
WOW... you almost... ALMOST grasped what he was talking about!
go back and think on that a minute... think on mutations... what they are... what evolution is... and re-read what he wrote as well as that line i just quoted to you... i redacted the middle because you don't need it and it is technically wrong as they ARE evolved from the original source
I am very much in support of genetic research
this is confusing... you support it, but you don't believe in it?

how does that work?
i mean... the science behind genetics is how we learned of the connections we have... it's far stronger than structural correlation and physical similarities
it is guaranteed to be far more accurate...

not sure i get that part

Mar 04, 2016
These Bibles are not evolved from one another, but are copies, albeit imperfect ones.

That is exactly how evolution works!

Please think scientifically.

Mar 06, 2016
It is awe-inspiring to see what Darwinian evolution can create over the course of deep time! The human brain, with the ability to comprehend its own origins, is one of the most amazing examples.

It's also important to realize it's a blind process; it tends toward exploiting every available niche, but not necessarily toward greater complexity or intelligence. Once the selective pressure for a complex trait (the human ability to reason, for example) is reduced, many defective offspring will survive and breed.

If the breeding population is too small (maybe a few fish trapped in a cave, or humans in a cult forbidden to mix with "infidels") you get inbreeding and genetic drift. The descendants of those fish are likely to be blind, due to defective eyes.

Or, as folk wisdom would have it, inbreeding leads to throwbacks. Even having lost most higher reasoning facilities, some of them can master rote skills like posting on the internet. We call them "trolls."

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