The spark that created life

September 12, 2018, Monash University
The spark that created life
Evolution by natural selection is immensely powerful -- both in nature and within laboratories. Researchers have identified 'Structural Capacitance Elements' within proteins, which retain the potential to evolve into micro-structures following the introduction of a mutation. These mutated proteins are associated with many different types of human diseases, such as cancer. Understanding if and how a mutation may change the protein shape will be pivotal in targeting that protein for use in therapeutics. Credit: Monash University

Evolution by Darwinian natural selection is immensely powerful—both in nature and within laboratories. Using 'laboratory evolution', we can take an enzyme which combines random mutations and functional selection, and improve its function by more than 1000 times. You can see evidence of science taking advantage of evolution across the field, from synthesised medications used to prevent the reoccurrence of heart attacks (beta blockers) to the development of tumor-targeting antibody therapeutics.

However, nothing evolves unless it already exists. When life started more than three billion years ago, what was the spark that created something from randomness?

Researchers from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), have identified what they have termed 'Structural Capacitance Elements' in mutated proteins that are associated with many different types of human diseases, in particular a range of cancers.

Structural Capacitance Elements are localised regions of disorder within proteins, which retain the potential to coalesce into 'micro-structures' following the introduction of a mutation. They act as nucleating seeds, or 'feedstock' for evolution to proceed, providing the basis of an accelerated mechanism of Darwinian evolution by natural selection, supplementing the slow and incremental process of classic Darwinian evolution.

This discovery has recently been published in the Journal of Molecular Biology. Lead researcher on this paper, Associate Professor Ashley Buckle, explained the significance of this discovery.

"Up until now, the prevailing belief amongst structural biologists has been that mutations that are implicated in disease act by disrupting structures—typically referred to as the 'loss-of-structure-function' paradigm. However it has recently been uncovered that more than 40 per cent of proteins have no well-defined structure at all," Associate Professor Buckle said.

"This prompted us to ask a very different question, and to turn the prevailing belief on its head," he said.

The research team analysed many of these disease-associated mutations and found that these 'Structural Capacitance Elements' may allow mutations to trigger a 'gain-of-function' by inducing structure where none existed before.

"We realised that our work may have diverse implications. Not only does it shed light on the of protein structures, it may provide insights into the engineering of highly evolvable proteins, and the identification and selective targeting of human disease epitopes," he said.

"Understanding if and how a mutation may change the protein shape will be pivotal in targeting that protein for use in therapeutics that recognise the mutated region."

Explore further: Variation in cancer-causing KRAS mutations greater than thought

More information: Chen Li et al, Structural Capacitance in Protein Evolution and Human Diseases, Journal of Molecular Biology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.jmb.2018.06.051

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TorbjornLarsson
4.5 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2018
This is looking at changes hydrophilic to hydrophobic changes in nucleating residues, possibly exposing new functional sites (or something similar). It is very drastic to suggest a new evolutionary mode, since the function of the exposed target may be marginal at the start.
rrwillsj
1 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2018
TbL, please correct me if I am misunderstanding your opinions. What you seem to be overlooking? Is Time.

Billions of "sparky" events during a gazillion chemical mashups, across billions of years.

The dice just needed to roll correctly once out of all those events, all those aeons. To be the right spark, at the right time, at the right place.

It is why the other five small rocky planets in our system failed to produce or sustain life.

While to date the observable star systems with planets are lifeless skulls rolling uselessly about their stars.

Literally billions of lotto tickets sold. To date only a single winner amid billions of losers.

Go ahead! Take a guess as to whether or not you occupy that winner.

Oh, don't worry! You won't upset me if you can ever prove me wrong! Just keep in mind the old saying. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

And if you claim an unprovable "miracle"? It will be a miracle if I ever believe you!
Parsec
5 / 5 (5) Sep 12, 2018
"It is why the other five small rocky planets in our system failed to produce or sustain life."

I agree with most of what you say, except that this statement is completely unfounded. We literally do not know if life exists in other places in the solar system, but extremely strong evidence does exist for the presence of both liquid water and the energy required to drive chemical reactions in many places.
Anonym518498
1.3 / 5 (12) Sep 12, 2018
blah blah blah speculation, is my tax money supporting this garbage?
rrwillsj
3.3 / 5 (6) Sep 12, 2018
Well, annoyingmousie. if you ever earned a honest living and had the scruples to pay taxes?

(Go ahead, try it sometime...)

Since you like to ask stupid questions? This question should be addressed to your congressperson who makes the decision for distributing Public funding.

Use small words. It is all too obvious that the republican tyrannized congress is rather illiterate and feeble-minded.

And if you discover that this research was funded by private foundations and think-tanks of the rich & infamous? What are you? Some sort of commie freak? Criticizing public manipulation by corporate interests?
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
3 / 5 (6) Sep 12, 2018

The title is very misleading.

"The Spark That Created Life" is wrt the mutations that came AFTER THE FACT when life had already been created.
The article states: "However, nothing evolves unless it already exists. When life started more than three billion years ago, what was the spark that created something from randomness?"

And their answer to that is: "...have identified what they have termed 'Structural Capacitance Elements' in mutated proteins that are associated with many different types of human diseases, in particular a range of cancers."

In other words: "localized regions of disorder within proteins" which is definitely not the prescribed "spark" that began life.
Thorium Boy
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 13, 2018
If Darwin's evolutionary process is logical, instinctive way to make sure a species survives and prospers, then why do modern people do everything they can to subvert it?
MarsBars
5 / 5 (4) Sep 13, 2018
blah blah blah speculation, is my tax money supporting this garbage?

Are you an Australian taxpayer, Anonym? That is where Monash University and these researchers are located. If you aren't, then why are you bleating?
TorbjornLarsson
not rated yet Sep 13, 2018
@rrwillsj: Yes, you misunderstood, obviously I was just commenting on the evolutionary mode.

Obviously the mechanism here was heritable, so evolutionary. How did you get - apparently - religious creationism with "random luck" out of that? Evolution has selection, short circuiting randomness for finding function. It is a well known fact that life emerged out of geochemistry, early Earth was molten sterile, now it has life. And function - life - evolved quickly, so was an easy process.

Protein randomness is tangentially relevant to protoribosomal life, since random protein "nests" of 4-6 nucleotides can support catalytic metal atoms and RNA life would likely incorporate them before the genetic code evolved.
TorbjornLarsson
not rated yet Sep 13, 2018
@TB: You are confusing philosophy ("logical") with science empiricism - which is not common sense logical, say - and then inserting the naturalistic fallacy in that mess. Culturally we can do what we please, nature be damned. But as it happens, modern humans use evolution in biology (hence the article) and medicine.
rrwillsj
not rated yet Sep 14, 2018
TorbjornLarsson, I apologize for misunderstanding your comment. Please accept my sincere apology if I have given offense.

However, I do not agree with your conclusion "... life - evolved quickly, so was an easy process."

At the end of the Hadean Period, with a whole lot of chaotic chemical processes going on. Tentative pre-biological processes were in play in the muck. As the Earth stabilized that provided the basic resources for the earliest lifeforms to get organized.

I sincerely doubt that there was any "easy" process or "predictable' outcome. Any number of things could have gone wrong and aborted biology at conception. For instance, whatever caused the Moon? If it had failed? Consider the mu;titude of effects upon biological evolution.

Look at the five failed, dead rocky planets for how many ways there are for "Natural Selection" too never get established or failed to survive and thrive.

Natural Selection is a posthumous explanation. Not a preceding cause.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2018
Cue the willis google quest for a few random facts to make people think hes a authority...
At the end of the Hadean Period, with a whole lot of chaotic chemical processes going on. Tentative pre-biological processes were in play in the muck. As the Earth stabilized that provided the basic resources for the earliest lifeforms to get organized
Does that sort of posturing hurt the spine?
rrwillsj
not rated yet Sep 16, 2018
Well ottogimli. Since you spend your life with your head firmly planted within your ass. You tell me.

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