Environmental boundary conditions for the origin of life converge to an organo-sulfur metabolism
Goldford, Joshua E.
MetadataShow full item record
Citation (published version)Joshua E Goldford, Hyman Hartman, Robert Marsland, Daniel Segrè. 2019. "Environmental boundary conditions for the origin of life converge to an organo-sulfur metabolism.." Nat Ecol Evol, Volume 3, Issue 12, pp. 1715 - 1724. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-1018-8
It has been suggested that a deep memory of early life is hidden in the architecture of metabolic networks, whose reactions could have been catalyzed by small molecules or minerals before genetically encoded enzymes. A major challenge in unravelling these early steps is assessing the plausibility of a connected, thermodynamically consistent proto-metabolism under different geochemical conditions, which are still surrounded by high uncertainty. Here we combine network-based algorithms with physico-chemical constraints on chemical reaction networks to systematically show how different combinations of parameters (temperature, pH, redox potential and availability of molecular precursors) could have affected the evolution of a proto-metabolism. Our analysis of possible trajectories indicates that a subset of boundary conditions converges to an organo-sulfur-based proto-metabolic network fuelled by a thioester- and redox-driven variant of the reductive tricarboxylic acid cycle that is capable of producing lipids and keto acids. Surprisingly, environmental sources of fixed nitrogen and low-potential electron donors are not necessary for the earliest phases of biochemical evolution. We use one of these networks to build a steady-state dynamical metabolic model of a protocell, and find that different combinations of carbon sources and electron donors can support the continuous production of a minimal ancient 'biomass' composed of putative early biopolymers and fatty acids.
Published in final edited form as: Nat Ecol Evol. 2019 December ; 3(12): 1715–1724. doi:10.1038/s41559-019-1018-8.