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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Multiple prebiotic metals mediate translation.

  • Author(s): Bray, Marcus S;
  • Lenz, Timothy K;
  • Haynes, Jay William;
  • Bowman, Jessica C;
  • Petrov, Anton S;
  • Reddi, Amit R;
  • Hud, Nicholas V;
  • Williams, Loren Dean;
  • Glass, Jennifer B
  • et al.

Today, Mg2+ is an essential cofactor with diverse structural and functional roles in life's oldest macromolecular machine, the translation system. We tested whether ancient Earth conditions (low O2, high Fe2+, and high Mn2+) can revert the ribosome to a functional ancestral state. First, SHAPE (selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension) was used to compare the effect of Mg2+, Fe2+, and Mn2+ on the tertiary structure of rRNA. Then, we used in vitro translation reactions to test whether Fe2+ or Mn2+ could mediate protein production, and quantified ribosomal metal content. We found that (i) Mg2+, Fe2+, and Mn2+ had strikingly similar effects on rRNA folding; (ii) Fe2+ and Mn2+ can replace Mg2+ as the dominant divalent cation during translation of mRNA to functional protein; and (iii) Fe and Mn associate extensively with the ribosome. Given that the translation system originated and matured when Fe2+ and Mn2+ were abundant, these findings suggest that Fe2+ and Mn2+ played a role in early ribosomal evolution.

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