Open AccessReview
Reporting Key Features in Cold-Adapted Bacteria
Life 2018, 8(1), 8; doi:10.3390/life8010008 -
Abstract
It is well known that cold environments are predominant over the Earth and there are a great number of reports analyzing bacterial adaptations to cold. Most of these works are focused on characteristics traditionally involved in cold adaptation, such as the structural adjustment
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It is well known that cold environments are predominant over the Earth and there are a great number of reports analyzing bacterial adaptations to cold. Most of these works are focused on characteristics traditionally involved in cold adaptation, such as the structural adjustment of enzymes, maintenance of membrane fluidity, expression of cold shock proteins and presence of compatible solutes. Recent works based mainly on novel “omic” technologies have presented evidence of the presence of other important features to thrive in cold. In this work, we analyze cold-adapted bacteria, looking for strategies involving novel features, and/or activation of non-classical metabolisms for a cold lifestyle. Metabolic traits related to energy generation, compounds and mechanisms involved in stress resistance and cold adaptation, as well as characteristics of the cell envelope, are analyzed in heterotrophic cold-adapted bacteria. In addition, metagenomic, metatranscriptomic and metaproteomic data are used to detect key functions in bacterial communities inhabiting cold environments. Full article
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Open AccessPerspective
Potential Role of Inorganic Confined Environments in Prebiotic Phosphorylation
Life 2018, 8(1), 7; doi:10.3390/life8010007 -
Abstract
A concise outlook on the potential role of confinement in phosphorylation and phosphate condensation pertaining to prebiotic chemistry is presented. Inorganic confinement is a relatively uncharted domain in studies concerning prebiotic chemistry, and even more so in terms of experimentation. However, molecular crowding
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A concise outlook on the potential role of confinement in phosphorylation and phosphate condensation pertaining to prebiotic chemistry is presented. Inorganic confinement is a relatively uncharted domain in studies concerning prebiotic chemistry, and even more so in terms of experimentation. However, molecular crowding within confined dimensions is central to the functioning of contemporary biology. There are numerous advantages to confined environments and an attempt to highlight this fact, within this article, has been undertaken, keeping in context the limitations of aqueous phase chemistry in phosphorylation and, to a certain extent, traditional approaches in prebiotic chemistry. Full article
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Open AccessReview
The Prevailing Catalytic Role of Meteorites in Formamide Prebiotic Processes
Life 2018, 8(1), 6; doi:10.3390/life8010006 -
Abstract
Meteorites are consensually considered to be involved in the origin of life on this Planet for several functions and at different levels: (i) as providers of impact energy during their passage through the atmosphere; (ii) as agents of geodynamics, intended both as starters
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Meteorites are consensually considered to be involved in the origin of life on this Planet for several functions and at different levels: (i) as providers of impact energy during their passage through the atmosphere; (ii) as agents of geodynamics, intended both as starters of the Earth’s tectonics and as activators of local hydrothermal systems upon their fall; (iii) as sources of organic materials, at varying levels of limited complexity; and (iv) as catalysts. The consensus about the relevance of these functions differs. We focus on the catalytic activities of the various types of meteorites in reactions relevant for prebiotic chemistry. Formamide was selected as the chemical precursor and various sources of energy were analyzed. The results show that all the meteorites and all the different energy sources tested actively afford complex mixtures of biologically-relevant compounds, indicating the robustness of the formamide-based prebiotic chemistry involved. Although in some cases the yields of products are quite small, the diversity of the detected compounds of biochemical significance underlines the prebiotic importance of meteorite-catalyzed condensation of formamide. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Intrinsic Properties of tRNA Molecules as Deciphered via Bayesian Network and Distribution Divergence Analysis
Life 2018, 8(1), 5; doi:10.3390/life8010005 -
Abstract
The identity/recognition of tRNAs, in the context of aminoacyl tRNA synthetases (and other molecules), is a complex phenomenon that has major implications ranging from the origins and evolution of translation machinery and genetic code to the evolution and speciation of tRNAs themselves to
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The identity/recognition of tRNAs, in the context of aminoacyl tRNA synthetases (and other molecules), is a complex phenomenon that has major implications ranging from the origins and evolution of translation machinery and genetic code to the evolution and speciation of tRNAs themselves to human mitochondrial diseases to artificial genetic code engineering. Deciphering it via laboratory experiments, however, is difficult and necessarily time- and resource-consuming. In this study, we propose a mathematically rigorous two-pronged in silico approach to identifying and classifying tRNA positions important for tRNA identity/recognition, rooted in machine learning and information-theoretic methodology. We apply Bayesian Network modeling to elucidate the structure of intra-tRNA-molecule relationships, and distribution divergence analysis to identify meaningful inter-molecule differences between various tRNA subclasses. We illustrate the complementary application of these two approaches using tRNA examples across the three domains of life, and identify and discuss important (informative) positions therein. In summary, we deliver to the tRNA research community a novel, comprehensive methodology for identifying the specific elements of interest in various tRNA molecules, which can be followed up by the corresponding experimental work and/or high-resolution position-specific statistical analyses. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Diverging Routes of BORIS and CTCF: An Interactomic and Phylogenomic Analysis
Life 2018, 8(1), 4; doi:10.3390/life8010004 -
Abstract
The CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) is multi-functional, ubiquitously expressed, and highly conserved from Drosophila to human. It has important roles in transcriptional insulation and the formation of a high-dimensional chromatin structure. CTCF has a paralog called “Brother of Regulator of Imprinted Sites” (BORIS) or
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The CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) is multi-functional, ubiquitously expressed, and highly conserved from Drosophila to human. It has important roles in transcriptional insulation and the formation of a high-dimensional chromatin structure. CTCF has a paralog called “Brother of Regulator of Imprinted Sites” (BORIS) or “CTCF-like” (CTCFL). It binds DNA at sites similar to those of CTCF. However, the expression profiles of the two proteins are quite different. We investigated the evolutionary trajectories of the two proteins after the duplication event using a phylogenomic and interactomic approach. We find that CTCF has 52 direct interaction partners while CTCFL only has 19. Almost all interactors already existed before the emergence of CTCF and CTCFL. The unique secondary loss of CTCF from several nematodes is paralleled by a loss of two of its interactors, the polycomb repressive complex subunit SuZ12 and the multifunctional transcription factor TYY1. In contrast to earlier studies reporting the absence of BORIS from birds, we present evidence for a multigene synteny block containing CTCFL that is conserved in mammals, reptiles, and several species of birds, indicating that not the entire lineage of birds experienced a loss of CTCFL. Within this synteny block, BORIS and its genomic neighbors seem to be partitioned into two nested chromatin loops. The high expression of SPO11, RAE1, RBM38, and PMEPA1 in male tissues suggests a possible link between CTCFL, meiotic recombination, and fertility-associated phenotypes. Using the 65,700 exomes and the 1000 genomes data, we observed a higher number of intergenic, non-synonymous, and loss-of-function mutations in CTCFL than in CTCF, suggesting a reduced strength of purifying selection, perhaps due to less functional constraint. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Sustainability of a Compartmentalized Host-Parasite Replicator System under Periodic Washout-Mixing Cycles
Life 2018, 8(1), 3; doi:10.3390/life8010003 -
Abstract
The emergence and dominance of parasitic replicators are among the major hurdles for the proliferation of primitive replicators. Compartmentalization of replicators is proposed to relieve the parasite dominance; however, it remains unclear under what conditions simple compartmentalization uncoupled with internal reaction secures the
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The emergence and dominance of parasitic replicators are among the major hurdles for the proliferation of primitive replicators. Compartmentalization of replicators is proposed to relieve the parasite dominance; however, it remains unclear under what conditions simple compartmentalization uncoupled with internal reaction secures the long-term survival of a population of primitive replicators against incessant parasite emergence. Here, we investigate the sustainability of a compartmentalized host-parasite replicator (CHPR) system undergoing periodic washout-mixing cycles, by constructing a mathematical model and performing extensive simulations. We describe sustainable landscapes of the CHPR system in the parameter space and elucidate the mechanism of phase transitions between sustainable and extinct regions. Our findings revealed that a large population size of compartments, a high mixing intensity, and a modest amount of nutrients are important factors for the robust survival of replicators. We also found two distinctive sustainable phases with different mixing intensities. These results suggest that a population of simple host–parasite replicators assumed before the origin of life can be sustained by a simple compartmentalization with periodic washout-mixing processes. Full article
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Open AccessEditorial
Acknowledgement to Reviewers of Life in 2017
Life 2018, 8(1), 2; doi:10.3390/life8010002 -
Abstract
Peer review is an essential part in the publication process, ensuring that Life maintains high quality standards for its published papers. In 2017, a total of 51 papers were published in the journal.[...] Full article
Open AccessArticle
Hydrogen Bonds and Life in the Universe
Life 2018, 8(1), 1; doi:10.3390/life8010001 -
Abstract
The scientific community is allocating more and more resources to space missions and astronomical observations dedicated to the search for life beyond Earth. This experimental endeavor needs to be backed by a theoretical framework aimed at defining universal criteria for the existence of
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The scientific community is allocating more and more resources to space missions and astronomical observations dedicated to the search for life beyond Earth. This experimental endeavor needs to be backed by a theoretical framework aimed at defining universal criteria for the existence of life. With this aim in mind, we have explored which chemical and physical properties should be expected for life possibly different from the terrestrial one, but similarly sustained by genetic and catalytic molecules. We show that functional molecules performing genetic and catalytic tasks must feature a hierarchy of chemical interactions operating in distinct energy bands. Of all known chemical bonds and forces, only hydrogen bonds are able to mediate the directional interactions of lower energy that are needed for the operation of genetic and catalytic tasks. For this reason and because of the unique quantum properties of hydrogen bonding, the functional molecules involved in life processes are predicted to have extensive hydrogen-bonding capabilities. A molecular medium generating a hydrogen-bond network is probably essential to support the activity of the functional molecules. These hydrogen-bond requirements constrain the viability of hypothetical biochemistries alternative to the terrestrial one, provide thermal limits to life molecular processes, and offer a conceptual framework to define a transition from a “covalent-bond stage” to a “hydrogen-bond stage” in prebiotic chemistry. Full article
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Kin Selection in the RNA World
Life 2017, 7(4), 53; doi:10.3390/life7040053 -
Abstract
Various steps in the RNA world required cooperation. Why did life’s first inhabitants, from polymerases to synthetases, cooperate? We develop kin selection models of the RNA world to answer these questions. We develop a very simple model of RNA cooperation and then elaborate
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Various steps in the RNA world required cooperation. Why did life’s first inhabitants, from polymerases to synthetases, cooperate? We develop kin selection models of the RNA world to answer these questions. We develop a very simple model of RNA cooperation and then elaborate it to model three relevant issues in RNA biology: (1) whether cooperative RNAs receive the benefits of cooperation; (2) the scale of competition in RNA populations; and (3) explicit replicator diffusion and survival. We show: (1) that RNAs are likely to express partial cooperation; (2) that RNAs will need mechanisms for overcoming local competition; and (3) in a specific example of RNA cooperation, persistence after replication and offspring diffusion allow for cooperation to overcome competition. More generally, we show how kin selection can unify previously disparate answers to the question of RNA world cooperation. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Enrichment of Circular Code Motifs in the Genes of the Yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Life 2017, 7(4), 52; doi:10.3390/life7040052 -
Abstract
A set X of 20 trinucleotides has been found to have the highest average occurrence in the reading frame, compared to the two shifted frames, of genes of bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, plasmids and viruses. This set X has an interesting mathematical property, since
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A set X of 20 trinucleotides has been found to have the highest average occurrence in the reading frame, compared to the two shifted frames, of genes of bacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, plasmids and viruses. This set X has an interesting mathematical property, since X is a maximal C3 self-complementary trinucleotide circular code. Furthermore, any motif obtained from this circular code X has the capacity to retrieve, maintain and synchronize the original (reading) frame. Since 1996, the theory of circular codes in genes has mainly been developed by analysing the properties of the 20 trinucleotides of X, using combinatorics and statistical approaches. For the first time, we test this theory by analysing the X motifs, i.e., motifs from the circular code X, in the complete genome of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Several properties of X motifs are identified by basic statistics (at the frequency level), and evaluated by comparison to R motifs, i.e., random motifs generated from 30 different random codes R. We first show that the frequency of X motifs is significantly greater than that of R motifs in the genome of S. cerevisiae. We then verify that no significant difference is observed between the frequencies of X and R motifs in the non-coding regions of S. cerevisiae, but that the occurrence number of X motifs is significantly higher than R motifs in the genes (protein-coding regions). This property is true for all cardinalities of X motifs (from 4 to 20) and for all 16 chromosomes. We further investigate the distribution of X motifs in the three frames of S. cerevisiae genes and show that they occur more frequently in the reading frame, regardless of their cardinality or their length. Finally, the ratio of X genes, i.e., genes with at least one X motif, to non-X genes, in the set of verified genes is significantly different to that observed in the set of putative or dubious genes with no experimental evidence. These results, taken together, represent the first evidence for a significant enrichment of X motifs in the genes of an extant organism. They raise two hypotheses: the X motifs may be evolutionary relics of the primitive codes used for translation, or they may continue to play a functional role in the complex processes of genome decoding and protein synthesis. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Formation and Stability of Prebiotically Relevant Vesicular Systems in Terrestrial Geothermal Environments
Life 2017, 7(4), 51; doi:10.3390/life7040051 -
Abstract
Terrestrial geothermal fields and oceanic hydrothermal vents are considered as candidate environments for the emergence of life on Earth. Nevertheless, the ionic strength and salinity of oceans present serious limitations for the self-assembly of amphiphiles, a process that is fundamental for the formation
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Terrestrial geothermal fields and oceanic hydrothermal vents are considered as candidate environments for the emergence of life on Earth. Nevertheless, the ionic strength and salinity of oceans present serious limitations for the self-assembly of amphiphiles, a process that is fundamental for the formation of first protocells. Consequently, we systematically characterized the efficiency of amphiphile assembly, and vesicular stability, in terrestrial geothermal environments, both, under simulated laboratory conditions and in hot spring water samples (collected from Ladakh, India, an Astrobiologically relevant site). Combinations of prebiotically pertinent fatty acids and their derivatives were evaluated for the formation of vesicles in aforesaid scenarios. Additionally, the stability of these vesicles was characterized over multiple dehydration-rehydration cycles, at elevated temperatures. Among the combinations that were tested, mixtures of fatty acid and its glycerol derivatives were found to be the most robust, also resulting in vesicles in all of the hot spring waters that were tested. Importantly, these vesicles were stable at high temperatures, and this fatty acid system retained its vesicle forming propensity, even after multiple cycles of dehydration-rehydration. The remaining systems, however, formed vesicles only in bicine buffer. Our results suggest that certain prebiotic compartments would have had a selective advantage in terrestrial geothermal niches. Significantly, our study highlights the importance of validating results that are obtained under ‘buffered’ laboratory conditions, by verifying their plausibility in prebiotically analogous environments. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Effects of Trimetaphosphate on Abiotic Formation and Hydrolysis of Peptides
Life 2017, 7(4), 50; doi:10.3390/life7040050 -
Abstract
The primordial Earth probably had most of the factors needed for the emergence and development of life. It is believed that it had not only water, but also simple inorganic and organic materials. While studies since the 1950s on the origins of organic
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The primordial Earth probably had most of the factors needed for the emergence and development of life. It is believed that it had not only water, but also simple inorganic and organic materials. While studies since the 1950s on the origins of organic matter have established key roles for amino acids, conditions that would have promoted their condensation to make polymers, such as peptides or proteins, have yet to be fully defined. The condensation of amino acids in a water-rich environment is not thermodynamically favored. Therefore, the efficient formation of peptides requires the presence of a catalyst or the activation of a substrate. In living cells, the biosynthesis of proteins is assisted by enzymes and requires adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a relatively complex organic polyphosphate, which serves as an energy source. Outside the living organism, simpler inorganic polyphosphates can form active aminoacyl–phosphate anhydrides, which suggests the broader potential of phosphorus for enabling the polymerization of amino acids. However, this has yet to be demonstrated. To address this gap, aqueous solutions containing a simple dipeptide, diglycine, and a simple polyphosphate, trimetaphosphate, were dried, and reaction products were analyzed by high performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS). Different reaction environments, which were defined by the initial solution composition, pH, temperature, and incubation time, were found to affect the distribution and yield of products. Our results collectively provide strong evidence for reactions that both condense and hydrolyze peptides. It is noteworthy that the co-occurrence of reactions that form and cleave peptides are a central feature of Kauffman’s theory for the emergence of autocatalytic sets, which is a key step in the chemical origins of life. Full article
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Open AccessConcept Paper
What Does “the RNA World” Mean to “the Origin of Life”?
Life 2017, 7(4), 49; doi:10.3390/life7040049 -
Abstract
Corresponding to life’s two distinct aspects: Darwinian evolution and self-sustainment, the origin of life should also split into two issues: the origin of Darwinian evolution and the arising of self-sustainment. Because the “self-sustainment” we concern about life should be the self-sustainment of a
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Corresponding to life’s two distinct aspects: Darwinian evolution and self-sustainment, the origin of life should also split into two issues: the origin of Darwinian evolution and the arising of self-sustainment. Because the “self-sustainment” we concern about life should be the self-sustainment of a relevant system that is “defined” by its genetic information, the self-sustainment could not have arisen before the origin of Darwinian evolution, which was just marked by the emergence of genetic information. The logic behind the idea of the RNA world is not as tenable as it has been believed. That is, genetic molecules and functional molecules, even though not being the same material, could have emerged together in the beginning and launched the evolution—provided that the genetic molecules can “simply” code the functional molecules. However, due to these or those reasons, alternative scenarios are generally much less convincing than the RNA world. In particular, when considering the accumulating experimental evidence that is supporting a de novo origin of the RNA world, it seems now quite reasonable to believe that such a world may have just stood at the very beginning of life on the Earth. Therewith, we acquire a concrete scenario for our attempts to appreciate those fundamental issues that are involved in the origin of life. In the light of those possible scenes included in this scenario, Darwinian evolution may have originated at the molecular level, realized upon a functional RNA. When two or more functional RNAs emerged, for their efficient cooperation, there should have been a selective pressure for the emergence of protocells. But it was not until the appearance of the “unitary-protocell”, which had all of its RNA genes linked into a chromosome, that Darwinian evolution made its full step towards the cellular level—no longer severely constrained by the low-grade evolution at the molecular level. Self-sustainment did not make sense before protocells emerged. The selection pressure that was favoring the exploration of more and more fundamental raw materials resulted in an evolutionary tendency of life to become more and more self-sustained. New functions for the entities to adapt to environments, including those that are involved in the self-sustainment per se, would bring new burdens to the self-sustainment—the advantage of these functions must overweigh the corresponding disadvantage. Full article
Open AccessReview
Ecology and Evolution in the RNA World Dynamics and Stability of Prebiotic Replicator Systems
Life 2017, 7(4), 48; doi:10.3390/life7040048 -
Abstract
As of today, the most credible scientific paradigm pertaining to the origin of life on Earth is undoubtedly the RNA World scenario. It is built on the assumption that catalytically active replicators (most probably RNA-like macromolecules) may have been responsible for booting up
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As of today, the most credible scientific paradigm pertaining to the origin of life on Earth is undoubtedly the RNA World scenario. It is built on the assumption that catalytically active replicators (most probably RNA-like macromolecules) may have been responsible for booting up life almost four billion years ago. The many different incarnations of nucleotide sequence (string) replicator models proposed recently are all attempts to explain on this basis how the genetic information transfer and the functional diversity of prebiotic replicator systems may have emerged, persisted and evolved into the first living cell. We have postulated three necessary conditions for an RNA World model system to be a dynamically feasible representation of prebiotic chemical evolution: (1) it must maintain and transfer a sufficient diversity of information reliably and indefinitely, (2) it must be ecologically stable and (3) it must be evolutionarily stable. In this review, we discuss the best-known prebiotic scenarios and the corresponding models of string-replicator dynamics and assess them against these criteria. We suggest that the most popular of prebiotic replicator systems, the hypercycle, is probably the worst performer in almost all of these respects, whereas a few other model concepts (parabolic replicator, open chaotic flows, stochastic corrector, metabolically coupled replicator system) are promising candidates for development into coherent models that may become experimentally accessible in the future. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Integral Phylogenomic Approach over Ilex L. Species from Southern South America
Life 2017, 7(4), 47; doi:10.3390/life7040047 -
Abstract
The use of molecular markers with inadequate variation levels has resulted in poorly resolved phylogenetic relationships within Ilex. Focusing on southern South American and Asian species, we aimed at contributing informative plastid markers. Also, we intended to gain insights into the nature
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The use of molecular markers with inadequate variation levels has resulted in poorly resolved phylogenetic relationships within Ilex. Focusing on southern South American and Asian species, we aimed at contributing informative plastid markers. Also, we intended to gain insights into the nature of morphological and physiological characters used to identify species. We obtained the chloroplast genomes of I.paraguariensis and I. dumosa, and combined these with all the congeneric plastomes currently available to accomplish interspecific comparisons and multilocus analyses. We selected seven introns and nine IGSs as variable non-coding markers that were used in phylogenomic analyses. Eight extra IGSs were proposed as candidate markers. Southern South American species formed one lineage, except for I. paraguariensis, I. dumosa and I. argentina, which occupied intermediate positions among sampled taxa; Euroasiatic species formed two lineages. Some concordant relationships were retrieved from nuclear sequence data. We also conducted integral analyses, involving a supernetwork of molecular data, and a simultaneous analysis of quantitative and qualitative morphological and phytochemical characters, together with molecular data. The total evidence tree was used to study the evolution of non-molecular data, evidencing fifteen non-ambiguous synapomorphic character states and consolidating the relationships among southern South American species. More South American representatives should be incorporated to elucidate their origin. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Cloning and Molecular Characterization of an Alpha-Glucosidase (MalH) from the Halophilic Archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi
Life 2017, 7(4), 46; doi:10.3390/life7040046 -
Abstract
We report the heterologous expression and molecular characterization of the first extremely halophilic alpha-glucosidase (EC 3.2.1.20) from the archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi. A 2349 bp region (Hqrw_2071) from the Hqr. walsbyi C23 annotated genome was PCR-amplified and the resulting amplicon ligated
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We report the heterologous expression and molecular characterization of the first extremely halophilic alpha-glucosidase (EC 3.2.1.20) from the archaeon Haloquadratum walsbyi. A 2349 bp region (Hqrw_2071) from the Hqr. walsbyi C23 annotated genome was PCR-amplified and the resulting amplicon ligated into plasmid pET28b(+), expressed in E. coli Rosetta cells, and the resulting protein purified by Ni-NTA affinity chromatography. The recombinant protein showed an estimated molecular mass of 87 kDa, consistent with the expected value of the annotated protein, and an optimal activity for the hydrolysis of α-PNPG was detected at 40 °C, and at pH 6.0. Enzyme activity values were the highest in the presence of 3 M NaCl or 3–4 M KCl. However, specific activity values were two-fold higher in the presence of 3–4 M KCl when compared to NaCl suggesting a cytoplasmic localization. Phylogenetic analyses, with respect to other alpha-glucosidases from members of the class Halobacteria, showed that the Hqr. walsbyi MalH was most similar (up to 41%) to alpha-glucosidases and alpha-xylosidases of Halorubrum. Moreover, computational analyses for the detection of functional domains, active and catalytic sites, as well as 3D structural predictions revealed a close relationship with an E. coli YicI-like alpha-xylosidase of the GH31 family. However, the purified enzyme did not show alpha-xylosidase activity. This narrower substrate range indicates a discrepancy with annotations from different databases and the possibility of specific substrate adaptations of halophilic glucosidases due to high salinity. To our knowledge, this is the first report on the characterization of an alpha-glucosidase from the halophilic Archaea, which could serve as a new model to gain insights into carbon metabolism in this understudied microbial group. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Chemical Transformations in Proto-Cytoplasmic Media. Phosphorus Coupling in the Silica Hydrogel Phase
Life 2017, 7(4), 45; doi:10.3390/life7040045 -
Abstract
It has been proposed that prebiotic chemical studies on the emergence of primitive life would be most relevant when performed in a hydrogel, rather than an aqueous, environment. In this paper we describe the ambient temperature coupling of phosphorus oxyacids [Pi] mediated by
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It has been proposed that prebiotic chemical studies on the emergence of primitive life would be most relevant when performed in a hydrogel, rather than an aqueous, environment. In this paper we describe the ambient temperature coupling of phosphorus oxyacids [Pi] mediated by Fe(II) under aerobic conditions within a silica hydrogel (SHG) environment. We have chosen to examine SHGs as they have considerable geological precedence as key phases in silicification en route to rock formation. Following a description of the preparation and characterization studies on our SHG formulations, coupling experiments between Pi species are described across multiple permutations of (i) Pi compound; (ii) gel formulation; (iii) metal salt additive; and (iv) pH-modifying agent. The results suggest that successful Pi coupling, indicated by observation of pyrophosphate [PPi(V)] via 31P-NMR spectroscopy, takes place when the following components are present: (i) a mixture of mixture of Pi(III) and Pi(V) or pure PPi(III-V); (ii) Fe(II); (iii) acetic or formic acid (not hydrochloric acid); (iv) aerobic conditions or the presence of H2O2 as an oxidant; and (v) the presence of a gel system. On the basis of these, and aqueous control reactions, we suggest mechanistic possibilities. Full article
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Open AccessReview
The Impact of Salts on Single Chain Amphiphile Membranes and Implications for the Location of the Origin of Life
Life 2017, 7(4), 44; doi:10.3390/life7040044 -
Abstract
One of the key steps in the origins of life was the formation of a membrane to separate protocells from their environment. These membranes are proposed to have been formed out of single chain amphiphiles, which are less stable than the dialkyl lipids
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One of the key steps in the origins of life was the formation of a membrane to separate protocells from their environment. These membranes are proposed to have been formed out of single chain amphiphiles, which are less stable than the dialkyl lipids used to form modern membranes. This lack of stability, specifically for decanoate, is often used to refute ocean locations for the origins of life. This review addresses the formation of membranes in hydrothermal-vent like conditions, as well as other environmental constraints. Specifically, single chain amphiphiles can form membranes at high sea salt concentrations (150 g/L), high temperatures (65 °C), and a wide pH range (2 to 10). It additionally discusses the major challenges and advantages of membrane formation in both ocean and fresh water locations. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Evolutionary Conflict Leads to Innovation: Symmetry Breaking in a Spatial Model of RNA-Like Replicators
Life 2017, 7(4), 43; doi:10.3390/life7040043 -
Abstract
Molecules that replicate in trans are vulnerable to evolutionary extinction because they decrease the catalysis of replication to become more available as a template for replication. This problem can be alleviated with higher-level selection that clusters molecules of the same phenotype, favouring those
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Molecules that replicate in trans are vulnerable to evolutionary extinction because they decrease the catalysis of replication to become more available as a template for replication. This problem can be alleviated with higher-level selection that clusters molecules of the same phenotype, favouring those groups that contain more catalysis. Here, we study a simple replicator model with implicit higher-level selection through space. We ask whether the functionality of such system can be enhanced when molecules reproduce through complementary replication, representing RNA-like replicators. For high diffusion, symmetry breaking between complementary strands occurs: one strand becomes a specialised catalyst and the other a specialised template. In ensemble, such replicators can modulate their catalytic activity depending on their environment, thereby mitigating the conflict between levels of selection. In addition, these replicators are more evolvable, facilitating survival in extreme conditions (i.e., for higher diffusion rates). Our model highlights that evolution with implicit higher-level selection—i.e., as a result of local interactions and spatial patterning—is very flexible. For different diffusion rates, different solutions to the selective conflict arise. Our results support an RNA World by showing that complementary replicators may have various ways to evolve more complexity. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
SMORE: Synteny Modulator of Repetitive Elements
Life 2017, 7(4), 42; doi:10.3390/life7040042 -
Abstract
Several families of multicopy genes, such as transfer ribonucleic acids (tRNAs) and ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs), are subject to concerted evolution, an effect that keeps sequences of paralogous genes effectively identical. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to distinguish orthologs from paralogs on the
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Several families of multicopy genes, such as transfer ribonucleic acids (tRNAs) and ribosomal RNAs (rRNAs), are subject to concerted evolution, an effect that keeps sequences of paralogous genes effectively identical. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to distinguish orthologs from paralogs on the basis of sequence similarity alone. Synteny, the preservation of relative genomic locations, however, also remains informative for the disambiguation of evolutionary relationships in this situation. In this contribution, we describe an automatic pipeline for the evolutionary analysis of such cases that use genome-wide alignments as a starting point to assign orthology relationships determined by synteny. The evolution of tRNAs in primates as well as the history of the Y RNA family in vertebrates and nematodes are used to showcase the method. The pipeline is freely available. Full article
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