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1.  On the origin of life in the Zinc world. 2. Validation of the hypothesis on the photosynthesizing zinc sulfide edifices as cradles of life on Earth 
Biology Direct  2009;4:27.
The accompanying article (A.Y. Mulkidjanian, Biology Direct 4:26) puts forward a detailed hypothesis on the role of zinc sulfide (ZnS) in the origin of life on Earth. The hypothesis suggests that life emerged within compartmentalized, photosynthesizing ZnS formations of hydrothermal origin (the Zn world), assembled in sub-aerial settings on the surface of the primeval Earth.
If life started within photosynthesizing ZnS compartments, it should have been able to evolve under the conditions of elevated levels of Zn2+ ions, byproducts of the ZnS-mediated photosynthesis. Therefore, the Zn world hypothesis leads to a set of testable predictions regarding the specific roles of Zn2+ ions in modern organisms, particularly in RNA and protein structures related to the procession of RNA and the "evolutionarily old" cellular functions. We checked these predictions using publicly available data and obtained evidence suggesting that the development of the primeval life forms up to the stage of the Last Universal Common Ancestor proceeded in zinc-rich settings. Testing of the hypothesis has revealed the possible supportive role of manganese sulfide in the primeval photosynthesis. In addition, we demonstrate the explanatory power of the Zn world concept by elucidating several points that so far remained without acceptable rationalization. In particular, this concept implies a new scenario for the separation of Bacteria and Archaea and the origin of Eukarya.
The ability of the Zn world hypothesis to generate non-trivial veritable predictions and explain previously obscure items gives credence to its key postulate that the development of the first life forms started within zinc-rich formations of hydrothermal origin and was driven by solar UV irradiation. This concept implies that the geochemical conditions conducive to the origin of life may have persisted only as long as the atmospheric CO2 pressure remained above ca. 10 bar. This work envisions the first Earth biotopes as photosynthesizing and habitable areas of porous ZnS and MnS precipitates around primeval hot springs. Further work will be needed to provide details on the life within these communities and to elucidate the primordial (bio)chemical reactions.
This article was reviewed by Arcady Mushegian, Eugene Koonin, and Patrick Forterre. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' reports section.
PMCID: PMC2749021  PMID: 19703275
2.  On the origin of life in the Zinc world: 1. Photosynthesizing, porous edifices built of hydrothermally precipitated zinc sulfide as cradles of life on Earth 
Biology Direct  2009;4:26.
The complexity of the problem of the origin of life has spawned a large number of possible evolutionary scenarios. Their number, however, can be dramatically reduced by the simultaneous consideration of various bioenergetic, physical, and geological constraints.
This work puts forward an evolutionary scenario that satisfies the known constraints by proposing that life on Earth emerged, powered by UV-rich solar radiation, at photosynthetically active porous edifices made of precipitated zinc sulfide (ZnS) similar to those found around modern deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Under the high pressure of the primeval, carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere ZnS could precipitate at the surface of the first continents, within reach of solar light. It is suggested that the ZnS surfaces (1) used the solar radiation to drive carbon dioxide reduction, yielding the building blocks for the first biopolymers, (2) served as templates for the synthesis of longer biopolymers from simpler building blocks, and (3) prevented the first biopolymers from photo-dissociation, by absorbing from them the excess radiation. In addition, the UV light may have favoured the selective enrichment of photostable, RNA-like polymers. Falsification tests of this hypothesis are described in the accompanying article (A.Y. Mulkidjanian, M.Y. Galperin, Biology Direct 2009, 4:27).
The suggested "Zn world" scenario identifies the geological conditions under which photosynthesizing ZnS edifices of hydrothermal origin could emerge and persist on primordial Earth, includes a mechanism of the transient storage and utilization of solar light for the production of diverse organic compounds, and identifies the driving forces and selective factors that could have promoted the transition from the first simple, photostable polymers to more complex living organisms.
This paper was reviewed by Arcady Mushegian, Simon Silver (nominated by Arcady Mushegian), Antoine Danchin (nominated by Eugene Koonin) and Dieter Braun (nominated by Sergey Maslov).
PMCID: PMC3152778  PMID: 19703272
3.  Evolutionary primacy of sodium bioenergetics 
Biology Direct  2008;3:13.
The F- and V-type ATPases are rotary molecular machines that couple translocation of protons or sodium ions across the membrane to the synthesis or hydrolysis of ATP. Both the F-type (found in most bacteria and eukaryotic mitochondria and chloroplasts) and V-type (found in archaea, some bacteria, and eukaryotic vacuoles) ATPases can translocate either protons or sodium ions. The prevalent proton-dependent ATPases are generally viewed as the primary form of the enzyme whereas the sodium-translocating ATPases of some prokaryotes are usually construed as an exotic adaptation to survival in extreme environments.
We combine structural and phylogenetic analyses to clarify the evolutionary relation between the proton- and sodium-translocating ATPases. A comparison of the structures of the membrane-embedded oligomeric proteolipid rings of sodium-dependent F- and V-ATPases reveals nearly identical sets of amino acids involved in sodium binding. We show that the sodium-dependent ATPases are scattered among proton-dependent ATPases in both the F- and the V-branches of the phylogenetic tree.
Barring convergent emergence of the same set of ligands in several lineages, these findings indicate that the use of sodium gradient for ATP synthesis is the ancestral modality of membrane bioenergetics. Thus, a primitive, sodium-impermeable but proton-permeable cell membrane that harboured a set of sodium-transporting enzymes appears to have been the evolutionary predecessor of the more structurally demanding proton-tight membranes. The use of proton as the coupling ion appears to be a later innovation that emerged on several independent occasions.
This article was reviewed by J. Peter Gogarten, Martijn A. Huynen, and Igor B. Zhulin. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' comments section.
PMCID: PMC2359735  PMID: 18380897

Results 1-3 (3)