Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Heat helped hasten life's beginnings on Earth, research suggests

Date:
December 5, 2010
Source:
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Summary:
New research investigating the effect of temperature on extremely slow chemical reactions suggests that the time required for evolution on a warm earth is shorter than critics might expect.

Lava flow.
Credit: USGS

There has been controversy about whether life originated in a hot or cold environment, and about whether enough time has elapsed for life to have evolved to its present complexity.

But new research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill investigating the effect of temperature on extremely slow chemical reactions suggests that the time required for evolution on a warm earth is shorter than critics might expect.

The findings are published in the Dec. 1, 2010, online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Enzymes, proteins that jump-start chemical reactions, are essential to life within cells of the human body and throughout nature. These molecules have gradually evolved to become more sophisticated and specific, said lead investigator Richard Wolfenden, PhD, Alumni Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the UNC School of Medicine.

To appreciate how powerful modern enzymes are, and the process of how they evolved, scientists need to know how quickly reactions occur in their absence.

Wolfenden's group measured the speed of chemical reactions, estimating that some of them take more than 2 billion years without an enzyme.

In the process of measuring slow reaction rates, "it gradually dawned on us that the slowest reactions are also the most temperature-dependent," Wolfenden said.

In general, the amount of influence temperature has on reaction speeds varies drastically, the group found. In one slow reaction, for instance, raising the temperature from 25 to 100 degrees Celsius increases the rate 10 million fold. "That is a shocker," Wolfenden said. "That's what's going to surprise people most, as it did me."

That is surprising, Wolfenden said, because a textbook rule in chemistry -- for more than a century -- has been that the influence of temperature is modest. In particular, a doubling in reaction rate occurs when the temperature rises 10 degree Celsius, according to experiments done in 1866.

High temperatures were probably a crucial influence on reaction rates when life began forming in hot springs and submarine vents, Wolfenden said. Later, the cooling of the earth provided selective pressure for primitive enzymes to evolve and become more sophisticated, the Wolfenden's group hypothesizes.

Using two different reaction catalysts -- which are not protein enzymes but that may have resembled early precursors to enzymes -- the group put the hypothesis to the test. The catalyzed reactions are indeed far less sensitive to temperature, compared with reactions that are accelerated by catalysts. The results are consistent with our hypothesis, Wolfenden said.

Wolfenden's group plans to test the hypothesis using other catalysts. In the meantime, these findings are likely to influence how scientists think of the first primitive forms of life on earth, and may affect how researchers design and enhance the power of artificial catalysts, he added.

Study co-authors from UNC are Randy Stockbridge, PhD, Charles Lewis, Jr., PhD and research specialist Yang Yuan, MS. Support for the research came from the National Institute of General Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. R. B. Stockbridge, C. A. Lewis, Y. Yuan, R. Wolfenden. Impact of temperature on the time required for the establishment of primordial biochemistry, and for the evolution of enzymes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1013647107

Cite This Page:

University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "Heat helped hasten life's beginnings on Earth, research suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 December 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101202124321.htm>.
University of North Carolina School of Medicine. (2010, December 5). Heat helped hasten life's beginnings on Earth, research suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101202124321.htm
University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "Heat helped hasten life's beginnings on Earth, research suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101202124321.htm (accessed August 21, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Neanderthals Probably Died Out Earlier Than We Thought

Neanderthals Probably Died Out Earlier Than We Thought

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — A new study is packed with interesting Neanderthal-related findings, including a "definitive answer" to when they went extinct. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) — Malaysia's last "fish listeners" -- practitioners of a dying local art of listening underwater to locate their quarry -- try to keep the ancient technique alive in the face of industrial trawling and the depletion of stocks. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Newsy (Aug. 15, 2014) — A mother and son in Alaska uncovered woolly mammoth tusks in the same river more than two decades apart. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Newsy (Aug. 14, 2014) — Newly found fossils reveal a previously unknown species of flying reptile with a really weird head, which some say looks like a butterfly. Video provided by Newsy
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