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Campus News

Enzyme Evolution

Illustration of a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. The color gradient from green via yellow to orange and brown reflects bacteria surviving at a range of temperatures. Life on earth likely started several billion years ago in a hot environment, just like the center of the hot spring.

Some three billion years ago, when life on this planet was still in its infancy, hot springs, geysers and volcanic hydrothermal vents were burgeoning with single-cell organisms. Temperatures hovered around a burning hot 180 degrees. In a few hundred million years, the basic elements of our genetic code and cellular machinery all came into being.

Then it started to get colder. Standing on the equator 1 billion years ago, it would have been as cold as today's Antarctic.

Of course this story has a happy ending — life developed anyway — but how it managed to adapt to the earth’s cooling remains something of a mystery. Now, in the cover story of the January 20 issue of Science, Professor of Biochemistry Dorothee Kern offers an explanation as to how enzymes — key catalysts in cells — braved the cold. "It's one more clue to how life evolved on this planet," she says.

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Categories: Campus News, Faculty
Date: January 25, 2017