Scientists Unwrap The Elements Of Life

Researchers at Newcastle University have taken a step forward in our understanding of how the fundamental building blocks of life are put together.

In a paper published in Nature, the team led by Professor Nigel Robinson have revealed a mechanism that ensures the right metal goes to the right protein. Proteins are essential and involved in just about every process in living cells.

Life, microbe, plant or human, is a painstaking assembly of trillions of atoms. The atoms include metals such as copper and manganese which act as catalysts in proteins. The proteins wrap around the metal atoms.

The research team has shown that to ensure a copper and a manganese protein wrap around the correct metal atoms, they do this in different parts of the cell, in zones which contain different metals. Therefore, which protein attaches to which metal is determined by where the folding action takes place in the cell.

Previously, a common view was that the right metals were simply those which were most attracted to the protein, but in this work that is not the case.

Professor Nigel Robinson at Newcastle University who led the research says: “This has taken us one step closer to understanding why metals and proteins assemble in the ways they do.”

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