Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists Unwrap The Elements Of Life

Date:
October 28, 2008
Source:
Newcastle University
Summary:
Researchers have taken a step forward in our understanding of how the fundamental building blocks of life are put together. They have revealed a mechanism that ensures the right metal goes to the right protein. Proteins are essential and involved in just about every process in living cells.

New research has shown that to ensure a copper and a manganese protein wrap around the correct metal atoms they do this in different parts of the cell, in zones which contain different metals. Therefore, which protein attaches to which metal is determined by where the folding action takes place in the cell.
Credit: Image courtesy of Newcastle University

Researchers at Newcastle University have taken a step forward in our understanding of how the fundamental building blocks of life are put together.

In a paper published in Nature, the team led by Professor Nigel Robinson have revealed a mechanism that ensures the right metal goes to the right protein. Proteins are essential and involved in just about every process in living cells.

Life, microbe, plant or human, is a painstaking assembly of trillions of atoms. The atoms include metals such as copper and manganese which act as catalysts in proteins. The proteins wrap around the metal atoms.

The research team has shown that to ensure a copper and a manganese protein wrap around the correct metal atoms, they do this in different parts of the cell, in zones which contain different metals. Therefore, which protein attaches to which metal is determined by where the folding action takes place in the cell.

Previously, a common view was that the right metals were simply those which were most attracted to the protein, but in this work that is not the case.

Professor Nigel Robinson at Newcastle University who led the research says: "This has taken us one step closer to understanding why metals and proteins assemble in the ways they do."

"One motive behind the work is pure curiosity, but as so many proteins need metals this type of work has many potential uses - for example, in synthetic biology which is striving to produce green power from bacteria by using energy from sunlight to produce hydrogen gas, a process which needs nickel and iron.

"It may also help in diseases such as Alzheimers where there are unexplained links to proteins binding metals such as copper. There's also application in controlling infections by Staphylococcus aureus; a bacterium which our bodies defences succeed - or sometimes fail - in killing by removing manganese and zinc from abscesses."

The researchers have shown that the way the metals attach is identical for a protein that binds manganese to one that binds copper. In both cases the metals bind inside protein barrels with the same type of metal-attractions.

Carrying out the work in a blue-green algae, a cyanobacterium, the team has been able to show that a protein requiring copper transports to the periplasm, the outer area of the cell, where it then folds around the available metal, which is copper.

Conversely, manganese but not copper atoms are found in the cytosol, in the middle of the cell. The team has demonstrated that a protein requiring manganese folds in the cytosol. The manganese protein is then transported to the periplasm having first trapped its manganese.

The cyanobacterium organism was chosen because it has a high demand for these two metals which are required for proteins involved in photosynthesis. These metals were chosen because they lie towards opposite ends of a chemical series called the Irving-Williams series, such that selecting these metals for proteins should be especially demanding.

In the work funded by the BBSRC, the Newcastle University team first developed a new approach to discover metal-binding proteins. This is now being swiftly applied to lots of other types of living cells and other essential metals (zinc, nickel, cobalt, iron). Unexpectedly, x-ray crystal structures showed that the identified proteins, MncA for manganese and CucA for copper, were both cupins (Latin for barrels) with identical sets of atoms for binding to the metals. Consistent with the chemical series, a ten-thousand times excess of manganese over copper was needed to fill the MncA barrel with manganese when folding is done in the laboratory.

Once folded, the manganese site is buried, the metal trapped inside the protein, and so the manganese protein can subsequently co-exist with the copper protein because its' metal becomes impervious to replacement by metals further up the Irving-Williams series.

The work exemplifies a cell overcoming the metal binding preferences of proteins.

The new discipline of synthetic biology aims to engineer cells to carry out useful tasks, for example to generate valuable compounds. Because metals are the catalysts for so much of biology, knowing how to engineer a supply of the right metals to the right proteins will be important to the success of these ventures.

The work is funded by the BBSRC.

Background

Cyanobacteria are ancient organisms that changed the planet. They released di-oxygen into the atmosphere and removed CO2. As a by-product, this changed the chemical forms of metals such as iron and copper in the environment and shifted the course of evolution. Cyanobacteria convert light into chemical forms of energy. They evolved into the chloroplasts of plants.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Newcastle University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Steve Tottey, Kevin J. Waldron, Susan J. Firbank, Brian Reale, Conrad Bessant, Katsuko Sato, Timothy R. Cheek, Joe Gray, Mark J. Banfield, Christopher Dennison & Nigel J. Robinson. Protein-folding location can regulate manganese-binding versus copper- or zinc-binding. Nature, October 22, 2008

Cite This Page:

Newcastle University. "Scientists Unwrap The Elements Of Life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081022135429.htm>.
Newcastle University. (2008, October 28). Scientists Unwrap The Elements Of Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081022135429.htm
Newcastle University. "Scientists Unwrap The Elements Of Life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081022135429.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

AP (July 28, 2014) West African nations and international health organizations are working to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history. It's one of the deadliest diseases known to man, but the CDC says it's unlikely to spread in the U.S. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

AP (July 28, 2014) Classes are being offered nationwide to encourage African Americans to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine. The program is trying to combat obesity, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins