Protein flaws responsible for complex life, study says

Some proteins have remained largely unchanged since they first appeared

Tiny structural errors in proteins may have been responsible for changes that sparked complex life, researchers say.

A comparison of proteins across 36 modern species suggests that protein flaws called “dehydrons” may have made proteins less stable in water. This would have made them more adhesive and more likely to end up working together, building up complex function.

The study in Nature suggests natural selection may not be the only means by which higher organisms came into being. Natural selection is a theory with no equal in terms of its power to explain how organisms and populations survive through the ages; random mutations that are helpful to an organism are maintained while harmful ones are bred out.

The theory is less convincing in its attempts to explain the enormous jumps in organism complexity, however. Single-celled life gave rise to more complex organisms, and with them came complicated networks of gene and protein interactions.

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One Response to Protein flaws responsible for complex life, study says

  1. alfy says:

    A very interesting piece of work, adding to the store of understanding about how spontaneously generated life may have arisen. The link to the longer article raises some issues about “non-adaptive” developments, i.e. things which seem to run counter to classical natural selection.

    There is some confusion about the use of the term “perfect” in describing existing organisms resulting from natural selection. I am amazed that this ancient Greek concept is still going the rounds. Of course no existing organisms are perfect, including human beings. They are simply a working compromise between a bagful of often conflicting physiological and biochemical mechanisms. So far, natural selection has enabled them to survive.
    The work on haemoglobin proteins is an excellent illustration of this. A set of defects have come together as a foursome and seem to be able to function effectively despite the basic flaws. I don’t think one needs to fuss about things being “non-adaptive”. If a crude compromise survives and flourishes that is quite good enough.

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