Can We Find the Life We Don’t Know?

Can We Find the Life We Don’t Know?

The only reference we have for ‘life’ is the life forms we know on Earth. Astrobiologists, on the other hand, search for life in space; he even suspects that the search for the origin of life on Earth may require broader scope. A NASA-funded research team is developing tools to predict features of life we ​​don’t know about. In a new study published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team identifies universal patterns in life’s chemistry that don’t seem to be bound to specific molecules.

“We want to have new tools to identify life that we don’t know, and even predict its properties,” says co-author Sara Imari Walker, an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) at Arizona State University. “To do this, we aim to identify universal laws that must be applied to any biochemical system. These include developing quantitative theory of the origins of life and using theory and statistics to guide our search for life on other planets.”

Life on Earth emerges from the interplay of hundreds of chemical compounds and reactions. Some of these components and reactions are found in all living things on Earth. Researchers using the Integrated Microbial Genomes and Microbiomes database; By studying enzymes (functional elements that drive biochemistry) found in bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes, he uncovered a new kind of biochemical generality.

Enzymes can be placed in a functionally broad class taxonomy; These groups are determined by the work done using water molecules, from breaking chemical bonds (hydrolases) to rearranging molecular structures (isomerases) to putting large molecules together (ligases). The research team compared how the enzyme abundance in each of these functional classes varied with the overall enzyme abundance in an organism. They discovered that there are various scaling laws (almost algorithmic relationships) between the amount of enzymes in different enzyme classes and the size of a living thing’s genome. It was also found that these laws do not depend on specific enzymes in the classes in question.

“Here we discovered that we achieved these scaling relationships without needing to maintain full membership,” says Chris Kempes of SFI and co-author of the new paper. “A certain amount of enzyme type is required; not certain types of enzymes. There are many ‘synonymous’ enzymes, and these synonymous enzymes scale up in systematic ways.”

Source: Earth-like planets. Photograph: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

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