Life's building blocks

This story has been heralded as the discovery of the "Legos of life" – we prefer to talk and or write about Lego. It seems that a single piece should be a 'piece' of Lego (or a Lego brick) which should be extended to 'pieces' of Lego and collectively described as a box of Lego, as opposed to a box of Legos. But we digress...

Scientists have identified a small set of simple protein building blocks that they believe were part life's easliest stages (here). During the passage of time these building blocks of life (or Legos (yuck!) of life) have been assembled and repurposed into complex proteins that are now at the core of all know metabolic mechanisms. They form four core chemical structures that can be stacked together to build the myriad proteins inside every organism. The core molecules were elucidated after smashing and dissecting nearly 10,000 proteins to understand their component parts.

The research was performed on computers, using data on the 3D atomic structures of 9,500 proteins and is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

The study's researches believe that a better understanding of how these core components are connected to each other within existing proteins will boost efforts in biomedical engineering, eventually resulting in therapeutic proteins and safer, more efficient industrial and energy catalysts. The identification of four fundamental building blocks for all proteins is thought to represent a beginning - with perhaps another 5 - 10 candidates yet to be found. And then we need to understand how to fit them all together, perhaps we can make our own creations - just like Lego.

  1. Hagai Raanan, Douglas H. Pike, Eli K. Moore, Paul G. Falkowski, Vikas Nanda. Modular origins of biological electron transfer chainsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201714225 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1714225115