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UGA researchers shed light on ancient origin of life
Date:3/7/2013

Athens, Ga. University of Georgia researchers discovered important genetic clues about the history of microorganisms called archaea and the origins of life itself in the first ever study of its kind. Results of their study shed light on one of Earth's oldest life forms.

"Archaea are an ancient form of microorganisms, so everything we can learn about them could help us to answer questions about the origin of life," said William Whitman, a microbiology professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and co-author on the paper.

Felipe Sarmiento, lead author and doctoral student in the microbiology department, surveyed 1,779 genes found in the genome of Methanococcus maripaludis, aquatic archaea commonly found in sea marshes, to determine if they were essential or not and learn more about their functions. He found that roughly 30 percent, or 526 genes, were essential. We now know which genes are driving the most important functions of the cell. The results of the study were published March 4 in the PNAS Early Edition and were performed with Jan Mrzek, an associate professor in the department of microbiology and the UGA Institute of Bioinformatics.

Although archaea are relatively simple organisms, the genetic systems they use to build cellular life are similar to those of more complicated eukaryotic cells found in complex organisms including animals and plants. For this reason, many scientists believe that eukaryotes evolved from ancient archaea.

These genetic systems are what allow information coded on DNA to build life.

"DNA by itself is a rock," Whitman said. "You need all these other systems to make the DNA become a living cell."

Because DNA is so fundamental to the modern cell, DNA synthesis has long been thought to be one of the most conserved processes in living organisms.

"It was a surprise when this study found that the system for making DNA was unique to the archae
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Contact: William Whitman
whitman@uga.edu
706-542-4219
University of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert

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