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The simple protein that started all life

By Natalie Parletta

Scientists believe they have discovered a simple protein that started all life 3.5 to 2.5 billion years ago, publishing their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We think we have found the building blocks of life – the Lego set that led, ultimately, to the evolution of cells, animals and plants,” says senior author Paul Falkowski from Rutgers University, US.

Proteins are complex three-dimensional shapes, created by infinite combinations of 20 amino acids, that power cells and organisms.

The astrobiology team, called ENIGMA (Evolution of Nanomachines in Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors), reasoned that, while today’s proteins are very complex, their predecessors had to be much simpler, explains co-author Vikas Nanda.

By identifying the first proteins, the team’s mission, sponsored by NASA, is to understand the origin and evolution of metabolism on Earth and potentially other planets.

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