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J Biomol Struct Dyn. 2012;30(5):542-5. doi: 10.1080/07391102.2012.687520. Epub 2012 Jun 25.

Structural phylogenomics uncovers the early and concurrent origins of cysteine biosynthesis and iron-sulfur proteins.

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National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement, Center for Bioinformatics, College of Life Science and Technology, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan 430070, China.


Cysteine (Cys) has unique chemical properties of catalysis, metal chelation, and protein stabilization. While Cys biosynthesis is assumed to be very ancient, the actual time of origin of these metabolic pathways remains unknown. Here, we use the molecular clocks of protein folds and fold superfamilies to time the origin of Cys biosynthesis. We find that the tRNA-dependent biosynthetic pathway appeared ~3.5 billion years ago while the tRNA-independent counterpart emerged ~500 million years later. A deep analysis of the origins of Cys biosynthesis in the context of emerging biochemistry uncovers some intriguing features of the planetary environment of early Earth. Results suggest that iron-sulfur (Fe-S) proteins that use cysteinyl sulfur to bind iron atoms were not the first to arise in evolution. Instead, their origin coincides with the appearance of the first Cys biosynthetic pathway. It is therefore likely that Cys did not play an important role in the make up of primordial protein molecules and that Fe-S clusters were not part of active sites at the beginning of biological history.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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