UI researchers using genetic relationships to track evolution

Date

12/31/08

The latest computer technology has buttressed a revolutionary look at how life evolved, while offering new potential for medicines.

Carl Woese startled the scientific world in 1977 by positing that there are three essential domains, or types of life. Before, there were thought to be two, bacteria and everything else: eukaryotes, whose cells contain membrane-coated parts, such as the nucleus.

Woese's third domain, archaea, are neither bacteria nor eukaryotes, though they have some similarities with each of the others. Most of the archaea discovered lived in extreme conditions, deep in the sea, under intense heat or in a methane-rich environment.

"The life we know effectively arose three times. That is, the cells of the three domains look like the same kind of thing invented by three different inventors," Woese said.

The University of Illinois professor challenged the mainstream by basing his distinctions on genetic relationships rather than structural similarities, divided life into 23 main divisions, all incorporated within three domains: bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes.

Woese solved the riddle by painstakingly looking at a genetic information molecule, RNA, in the ribosomes, protein-builders found in every living cell.

Now, researchers working with Woese have published high-tech confirmation in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. They found that changes in ribosome structures are "molecular fossils" that track evolution.

UI Professor Zaida Luthey-Schulten and graduate student Elijah Roberts, the lead author, use techniques that were unthinkable in the 1970s, when Woese proposed the three domains of life.

"The ribosomal crystal structures and the many genomic and environmental ribosomal sequences did not begin to accumulate until starting around 2000," Luthey-Schulten said. "So we are really just now starting to get enough raw data to perform these sorts of comparative analyses."

Also, Roberts contributed to the UI's new software for the structural analysis and visualization of the genetic complexities, finding molecular sequences common to all members of a single domain of life, but not to another, Luthey-Schulten said.

Woese said Isaac Newton influenced scientists to see "the world as comprising material particles" like billiard ball atoms "with forces between them," including chemical bonds.

"All living things were looked at as little machines," he said. "The job of such a biology was to take the machines apart and come up with a 'parts list' from which the machine (in principle) could be assembled.

"Now it appears that just having a parts list is insufficient to give you an understanding of the 'machine.' You have to understand these molecular mechanisms in terms of the behavior of the whole."

The scientists want to understand more deeply the process of how ribosomes synthesize protein.

Luthey-Schulten said their work could eventually lead to new medicines, including new ways to attack the problem of antibiotic resistance by stopping production of specific proteins.

Related People

Directory

scheelinAlexander
Scheeline
bjmccallBenjamin
McCall
cmartn10Calgary
Martin
r-gennisRobert
Gennis
j-gerltJohn
Gerlt
sgranickSteve
Granick
mgruebelMartin
Gruebele
hergenroPaul
Hergenrother
huangRaven
Huang
mlkraftMary
Kraft
leckbandDeborah
Leckband
yi-luYi
Lu
martinisSusan
Martinis
snairSatish
Nair
eoldfielEric
Oldfield
rienstraChad
Rienstra
cmsCharles
Schroeder
zanZaida
Luthey-Schulten
sksScott
Silverman
s-sligarStephen
Sligar
zhao5Huimin
Zhao
mselfba2Michelle
Self-Ballard
pbraunPaul
Braun
mdburkeMartin
Burke
jeffchanJefferson
Chan
sdenmarkScott
Denmark
dlottDana
Dlott
foutAlison
Fout
agewirthAndrew
Gewirth
ggirolamGregory
Girolami
shs3Sharon
Hammes-Schiffer
sohirataSo
Hirata
kamihullKami
Hull
jainPrashant
Jain
jkatzeneJohn
Katzenellenbogen
nmakriNancy
Makri
douglasmDouglas
Mitchell
jsmooreJeffrey
Moore
murphycjCatherine
Murphy
r-nuzzoRalph
Nuzzo
dimerPhilip
Phillips
rauchfuzThomas
Rauchfuss
joaquinrJoaquín
Rodríguez-López
jrogersJohn
Rogers
sarlahDavid
Sarlah
kschweizKenneth
Schweizer
jsweedleJonathan
Sweedler
vddonkWilfred
van der Donk
renskeRenske
van der Veen
vuraweisJosh
Vura-Weis
mcwhite7M.
White
sczimmerSteven
Zimmerman
beakPeter
Beak
wklemperWalter
Klemperer
jdmcdonaJ.
McDonald
mvp11Michael
Pak
pogoreloTaras
Pogorelov
mshen233Mei
Shen
dewoonDavid
Woon
wboulangWilliam
Boulanger
rxbRohit
Bhargava
qchen20Qian
Chen
jianjuncJianjun
Cheng
hy66Hong
Yang
andinomaJosé
Andino Martinez
decosteDonald
DeCoste
thhuangTina
Huang
tjhummelThomas
Hummel
dkellDavid
Kell
doctorkMichael
Koerner
marvilleKelly
Marville
crrayChristian
Ray
tlbrownTheodore
Brown
rmcoatesRobert
Coates
thdjrThom
Dunning,
dykstraClifford
Dykstra
j-jonasJiri
Jonas
j-lisyJames
Lisy
shapleyJohn
Shapley
pshapleyPatricia
Shapley
awieckowAndrzej
Wieckowski
zumdahl2Steven
Zumdahl
ksuslickKenneth
Suslick
jlbearJodi
Bear
jcoxJenny
Cox
ealthausEllen
Althaus
staciryStaci
Ryan
sqdSean
Drummond
dmillsDouglas
Mills
sheeleySarah
Sheeley
jsmaddenJoseph
Madden
cknight4Connie
Knight
schulzeHeather
Schulze
slangleySamantha
Langley
ssmurrayStar
Murray
kbaumgarKeena
Finney
adkssnBeatrice
Adkisson
bmylerBeth
Myler
trabari1Katie
Trabaris
kewatsonKaren
Watson
strussTheresa
Struss
metclfKara
Metcalf
ljohnso2Lori
Johnson
jlwJamison
Lowe
jenruslJennifer
Russell
lchenoweLeslie
Chenoweth
jcfJonathan
Freiman
wdedoWolali
Dedo
ebielserElaina
Kutz
spinnerDavid
Spinner
plblumPatricia
Simpson
stevens2Chad
Stevens
lsagekarLori
Sage-Karlson
bertholdDeborah
Berthold
kecarlsoKathryn
Carlson
tlchen4Timothy
Chen
sdesmondSerenity
Desmond
angelaecAngela
Crawford
hsahmed3Hajira
Ahmed
kakinsKenye
Akins
asali3Arzeena
Ali
axelson2Jordan
Axelson
bai11Yugang
Bai
scbakerStephanie
Baker
duffin2Kevin
Duffin
duttadDebapriya
Dutta
pflotschPriscila
Falagan Lotsch
iflemingIan
Fleming
dgrayDanielle
Gray
thennes2Thomas
Hennessey
mhettingMary Jo
Hettinger
holdaNancy
Holda
holler2Jordan
Holler
aibarrAlejandro
Ibarra
kimshSung Hoon
Kim
kocherg2Nikolai
Kocherginsky
philipk2Philip
Kocheril
dlee106David
Lee
legare2Stephanie
Legare
alewandoAgnieszka
Lewandowska
qianliliQianli
Li
bdmccallBirgit
McCall
smccombiStuart
McCombie
jdm5Justin
McGlauchlen
egmooreEdwin
Moore
myerscouKathleen
Myerscough
snalla2Siva
Nalla
oraham2Aaron
Oraham
lah5LeeAnn
Pannebaker
poonawa2Maria
Poonawalla
rrollerR.
Roller
romanovaElena
Romanova
roubakhiStanislav
Rubakhin
vsfVictoria
Shepherd-Fortner
shvedalxAlexander
Shved
asoudaAlexander
Soudakov
ktsween2Kalee
Sweeney
sktarterSamantha
Tarter
aathoma2Andy
Thomas
kwilhelKaren
Wilhelmsen
wilkeyRandy
Wilkey
luxu3Lu
Xu
yuanyao4Yuan
Yao
silongSilong
Zhang
schlembaMary
Schlembach
emccarr2Elise
McCarren
cmercierChristen
Mercier
atimpermAaron
Timperman
niesShuming
Nie
hshanHee-Sun
Han
mmgMutha Merenna Nuwan Bhagya
Gunasekera