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The basic building blocks of life to be rethought after one discovered to be missing

Basic Building Blocks

A gene thought previously to be present in all life on earth has been found to be missing in life near volcanoes.

The protein, thought to be one of the fundamental building-blocks of life, is not present in certain volcanic single cell organisms.

The scientists studied archaea, which are similar to bacteria, but have a separate origin, for the research.

The research published in the prestigious American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS) found the expected gene missing and another in its place.

This missing protein, named SSB, performs an essential role binding DNA and protecting it from damage.

It has been replaced by a completely unrelated protein that seems to perform the same function.

Professor Malcolm White of the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews said: “All cells, whether they are microbial or human, have some things in common.

“These are the fundamental components or building blocks which were present in the first cells and have been passed on over 3.5 billion years.

“However, we have discovered that a gene normally thought to be absolutely essential and conserved throughout every form of life, is in fact lost in one group of volcanic bugs, and replaced by a completely novel gene we have christened ThermoDBP.”

The discovery has ramifications for understanding about how life has evolved on earth as it suggests even crucial genes can be displaced under some circumstances.

The new gene may confer some advantage to this extreme form of life, and could have applications in biotechnology and the new scientific discipline of synthetic biology.

Note to Editors

For images please contact the press office.

Professor White is available today on 01334 463432 or 07595089266.

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Fiona MacLeod on 01334 462108 / 0771 414 0559.
Ref: (volcanic 11/06/12)

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