Displaying publications 1 - 20 of 55 in total

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  1. Jarolim P, Palek J, Amato D, Hassan K, Sapak P, Nurse GT, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 1991 Dec 15;88(24):11022-6.
    PMID: 1722314
    Southeast Asian ovalocytosis (SAO) is a hereditary condition that is widespread in parts of Southeast Asia. The ovalocytic erythrocytes are rigid and resistant to invasion by various malarial parasites. We have previously found that the underlying defect in SAO involves band 3 protein, the major transmembrane protein, which has abnormal structure and function. We now report two linked mutations in the erythrocyte band 3 gene in SAO: (i) a deletion of codons 400-408 and (ii) a substitution, A----G, in the first base of codon 56 leading to substitution of Lys-56 by Glu-56. The first defect leads to a deletion of nine amino acids in the boundary of cytoplasmic and membrane domains of band 3. This defect has been detected in all 30 ovalocytic subjects from Malaysia, the Philippines, and two unrelated coastal regions of Papua New Guinea, whereas it was absent in all 30 controls from Southeast Asia and 20 subjects of different ethnic origin from the United States. The Lys-56----Glu substitution has likewise been found in all SAO subjects. However, it has also been detected in 5 of the 50 control subjects, suggesting that it represents a linked polymorphism. We conclude that the deletion of codons 400-408 in the band 3 gene constitutes the underlying molecular defect in SAO.
  2. Venkataraman VV, Kraft TS, Dominy NJ, Endicott KM
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2017 03 21;114(12):3097-3102.
    PMID: 28265058 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1617542114
    The residential mobility patterns of modern hunter-gatherers broadly reflect local resource availability, but the proximate ecological and social forces that determine the timing of camp movements are poorly known. We tested the hypothesis that the timing of such moves maximizes foraging efficiency as hunter-gatherers move across the landscape. The marginal value theorem predicts when a group should depart a camp and its associated foraging area and move to another based on declining marginal return rates. This influential model has yet to be directly applied in a population of hunter-gatherers, primarily because the shape of gain curves (cumulative resource acquisition through time) and travel times between patches have been difficult to estimate in ethnographic settings. We tested the predictions of the marginal value theorem in the context of hunter-gatherer residential mobility using historical foraging data from nomadic, socially egalitarian Batek hunter-gatherers (n = 93 d across 11 residential camps) living in the tropical rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. We characterized the gain functions for all resources acquired by the Batek at daily timescales and examined how patterns of individual foraging related to the emergent property of residential movements. Patterns of camp residence times conformed well with the predictions of the marginal value theorem, indicating that communal perceptions of resource depletion are closely linked to collective movement decisions. Despite (and perhaps because of) a protracted process of deliberation and argument about when to depart camps, Batek residential mobility seems to maximize group-level foraging efficiency.
  3. Davies AB, Ancrenaz M, Oram F, Asner GP
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2017 Aug 01;114(31):8307-8312.
    PMID: 28720703 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1706780114
    The conservation of charismatic and functionally important large species is becoming increasingly difficult. Anthropogenic pressures continue to squeeze available habitat and force animals into degraded and disturbed areas. Ensuring the long-term survival of these species requires a well-developed understanding of how animals use these new landscapes to inform conservation and habitat restoration efforts. We combined 3 y of highly detailed visual observations of Bornean orangutans with high-resolution airborne remote sensing (Light Detection and Ranging) to understand orangutan movement in disturbed and fragmented forests of Malaysian Borneo. Structural attributes of the upper forest canopy were the dominant determinant of orangutan movement among all age and sex classes, with orangutans more likely to move in directions of increased canopy closure, tall trees, and uniform height, as well as avoiding canopy gaps and moving toward emergent crowns. In contrast, canopy vertical complexity (canopy layering and shape) did not affect movement. Our results suggest that although orangutans do make use of disturbed forest, they select certain canopy attributes within these forests, indicating that not all disturbed or degraded forest is of equal value for the long-term sustainability of orangutan populations. Although the value of disturbed habitats needs to be recognized in conservation plans for wide-ranging, large-bodied species, minimal ecological requirements within these habitats also need to be understood and considered if long-term population viability is to be realized.
  4. Cao L, Chen Y, Dong S, Hanson A, Huang B, Leadbitter D, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2017 01 17;114(3):435-442.
    PMID: 28096504 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1616583114
    China's 13th Five-Year Plan, launched in March 2016, provides a sound policy platform for the protection of marine ecosystems and the restoration of capture fisheries within China's exclusive economic zone. What distinguishes China among many other countries striving for marine fisheries reform is its size-accounting for almost one-fifth of global catch volume-and the unique cultural context of its economic and resource management. In this paper, we trace the history of Chinese government priorities, policies, and outcomes related to marine fisheries since the 1978 Economic Reform, and examine how the current leadership's agenda for "ecological civilization" could successfully transform marine resource management in the coming years. We show how China, like many other countries, has experienced a decline in the average trophic level of its capture fisheries during the past few decades, and how its policy design, implementation, and enforcement have influenced the status of its wild fish stocks. To reverse the trend in declining fish stocks, the government is introducing a series of new programs for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, with greater traceability and accountability in marine resource management and area controls on coastal development. As impressive as these new plans are on paper, we conclude that serious institutional reforms will be needed to achieve a true paradigm shift in marine fisheries management in China. In particular, we recommend new institutions for science-based fisheries management, secure fishing access, policy consistency across provinces, educational programs for fisheries managers, and increasing public access to scientific data.
  5. Katsos N, Cummins C, Ezeizabarrena MJ, Gavarró A, Kuvač Kraljević J, Hrzica G, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2016 08 16;113(33):9244-9.
    PMID: 27482119 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1601341113
    Learners of most languages are faced with the task of acquiring words to talk about number and quantity. Much is known about the order of acquisition of number words as well as the cognitive and perceptual systems and cultural practices that shape it. Substantially less is known about the acquisition of quantifiers. Here, we consider the extent to which systems and practices that support number word acquisition can be applied to quantifier acquisition and conclude that the two domains are largely distinct in this respect. Consequently, we hypothesize that the acquisition of quantifiers is constrained by a set of factors related to each quantifier's specific meaning. We investigate competence with the expressions for "all," "none," "some," "some…not," and "most" in 31 languages, representing 11 language types, by testing 768 5-y-old children and 536 adults. We found a cross-linguistically similar order of acquisition of quantifiers, explicable in terms of four factors relating to their meaning and use. In addition, exploratory analyses reveal that language- and learner-specific factors, such as negative concord and gender, are significant predictors of variation.
  6. Tao J, Chen J, Li J, Mathurin L, Zheng JC, Li Y, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2017 09 12;114(37):9832-9837.
    PMID: 28855335 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1709163114
    The optimal functionalities of materials often appear at phase transitions involving simultaneous changes in the electronic structure and the symmetry of the underlying lattice. It is experimentally challenging to disentangle which of the two effects--electronic or structural--is the driving force for the phase transition and to use the mechanism to control material properties. Here we report the concurrent pumping and probing of Cu2S nanoplates using an electron beam to directly manipulate the transition between two phases with distinctly different crystal symmetries and charge-carrier concentrations, and show that the transition is the result of charge generation for one phase and charge depletion for the other. We demonstrate that this manipulation is fully reversible and nonthermal in nature. Our observations reveal a phase-transition pathway in materials, where electron-induced changes in the electronic structure can lead to a macroscopic reconstruction of the crystal structure.
  7. Brodie JF
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2017 11 07;114(45):11998-12002.
    PMID: 29078339 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1710172114
    Large, fruit-eating vertebrates have been lost from many of the world's ecosystems. The ecological consequences of this defaunation can be severe, but the evolutionary consequences are nearly unknown because it remains unclear whether frugivores exert strong selection on fruit traits. I assessed the macroevolution of fruit traits in response to variation in the diversity and size of seed-dispersing vertebrates. Across the Indo-Malay Archipelago, many of the same plant lineages have been exposed to very different assemblages of seed-dispersing vertebrates. Phylogenetic analysis of >400 plant species in 41 genera and five families revealed that average fruit size tracks the taxonomic and functional diversity of frugivorous birds and mammals. Fruit size was 40.2-46.5% smaller in the Moluccas and Sulawesi (respectively), with relatively depauperate assemblages of mostly small-bodied animals, than in the Sunda Region (Borneo, Sumatra, and Peninsular Malaysia), with a highly diverse suite of large and small animals. Fruit color, however, was unrelated to vertebrate diversity or to the representation of birds versus mammals in the frugivore assemblage. Overhunting of large animals, nearly ubiquitous in tropical forests, could strongly alter selection pressures on plants, resulting in widespread, although trait-specific, morphologic changes.
  8. Rinne P, Hassan M, Fernandes C, Han E, Hennessy E, Waldman A, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2018 01 16;115(3):E536-E545.
    PMID: 29284747 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1715617115
    Attention control (or executive control) is a higher cognitive function involved in response selection and inhibition, through close interactions with the motor system. Here, we tested whether influences of attention control are also seen on lower level motor functions of dexterity and strength-by examining relationships between attention control and motor performance in healthy-aged and hemiparetic-stroke subjects (n = 93 and 167, respectively). Subjects undertook simple-tracking, precision-hold, and maximum force-generation tasks, with each hand. Performance across all tasks correlated strongly with attention control (measured as distractor resistance), independently of factors such as baseline performance, hand use, lesion size, mood, fatigue, or whether distraction was tested during motor or nonmotor cognitive tasks. Critically, asymmetric dissociations occurred in all tasks, in that severe motor impairment coexisted with normal (or impaired) attention control whereas normal motor performance was never associated with impaired attention control (below a task-dependent threshold). This implies that dexterity and force generation require intact attention control. Subsequently, we examined how motor and attention-control performance mapped to lesion location and cerebral functional connectivity. One component of motor performance (common to both arms), as well as attention control, correlated with the anatomical and functional integrity of a cingulo-opercular "salience" network. Independently of this, motor performance difference between arms correlated negatively with the integrity of the primary sensorimotor network and corticospinal tract. These results suggest that the salience network, and its attention-control function, are necessary for virtually all volitional motor acts while its damage contributes significantly to the cardinal motor deficits of stroke.
  9. Yap ML, Klose T, Urakami A, Hasan SS, Akahata W, Rossmann MG
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2017 12 26;114(52):13703-13707.
    PMID: 29203665 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1713166114
    Cleavage of the alphavirus precursor glycoprotein p62 into the E2 and E3 glycoproteins before assembly with the nucleocapsid is the key to producing fusion-competent mature spikes on alphaviruses. Here we present a cryo-EM, 6.8-Å resolution structure of an "immature" Chikungunya virus in which the cleavage site has been mutated to inhibit proteolysis. The spikes in the immature virus have a larger radius and are less compact than in the mature virus. Furthermore, domains B on the E2 glycoproteins have less freedom of movement in the immature virus, keeping the fusion loops protected under domain B. In addition, the nucleocapsid of the immature virus is more compact than in the mature virus, protecting a conserved ribosome-binding site in the capsid protein from exposure. These differences suggest that the posttranslational processing of the spikes and nucleocapsid is necessary to produce infectious virus.
  10. Kafy HT, Ismail BA, Mnzava AP, Lines J, Abdin MSE, Eltaher JS, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2017 12 26;114(52):E11267-E11275.
    PMID: 29229808 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1713814114
    Insecticide-based interventions have contributed to ∼78% of the reduction in the malaria burden in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000. Insecticide resistance in malaria vectors could presage a catastrophic rebound in disease incidence and mortality. A major impediment to the implementation of insecticide resistance management strategies is that evidence of the impact of resistance on malaria disease burden is limited. A cluster randomized trial was conducted in Sudan with pyrethroid-resistant and carbamate-susceptible malaria vectors. Clusters were randomly allocated to receive either long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) alone or LLINs in combination with indoor residual spraying (IRS) with a pyrethroid (deltamethrin) insecticide in the first year and a carbamate (bendiocarb) insecticide in the two subsequent years. Malaria incidence was monitored for 3 y through active case detection in cohorts of children aged 1 to <10 y. When deltamethrin was used for IRS, incidence rates in the LLIN + IRS arm and the LLIN-only arm were similar, with the IRS providing no additional protection [incidence rate ratio (IRR) = 1.0 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.36-3.0; P = 0.96)]. When bendiocarb was used for IRS, there was some evidence of additional protection [interaction IRR = 0.55 (95% CI: 0.40-0.76; P < 0.001)]. In conclusion, pyrethroid resistance may have had an impact on pyrethroid-based IRS. The study was not designed to assess whether resistance had an impact on LLINs. These data alone should not be used as the basis for any policy change in vector control interventions.
  11. Majid A, Roberts SG, Cilissen L, Emmorey K, Nicodemus B, O'Grady L, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2018 11 06;115(45):11369-11376.
    PMID: 30397135 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1720419115
    Is there a universal hierarchy of the senses, such that some senses (e.g., vision) are more accessible to consciousness and linguistic description than others (e.g., smell)? The long-standing presumption in Western thought has been that vision and audition are more objective than the other senses, serving as the basis of knowledge and understanding, whereas touch, taste, and smell are crude and of little value. This predicts that humans ought to be better at communicating about sight and hearing than the other senses, and decades of work based on English and related languages certainly suggests this is true. However, how well does this reflect the diversity of languages and communities worldwide? To test whether there is a universal hierarchy of the senses, stimuli from the five basic senses were used to elicit descriptions in 20 diverse languages, including 3 unrelated sign languages. We found that languages differ fundamentally in which sensory domains they linguistically code systematically, and how they do so. The tendency for better coding in some domains can be explained in part by cultural preoccupations. Although languages seem free to elaborate specific sensory domains, some general tendencies emerge: for example, with some exceptions, smell is poorly coded. The surprise is that, despite the gradual phylogenetic accumulation of the senses, and the imbalances in the neural tissue dedicated to them, no single hierarchy of the senses imposes itself upon language.
  12. Li JF, Dai YT, Lilljebjörn H, Shen SH, Cui BW, Bai L, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2018 12 11;115(50):E11711-E11720.
    PMID: 30487223 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1814397115
    Most B cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (BCP ALL) can be classified into known major genetic subtypes, while a substantial proportion of BCP ALL remains poorly characterized in relation to its underlying genomic abnormalities. We therefore initiated a large-scale international study to reanalyze and delineate the transcriptome landscape of 1,223 BCP ALL cases using RNA sequencing. Fourteen BCP ALL gene expression subgroups (G1 to G14) were identified. Apart from extending eight previously described subgroups (G1 to G8 associated with MEF2D fusions, TCF3-PBX1 fusions, ETV6-RUNX1-positive/ETV6-RUNX1-like, DUX4 fusions, ZNF384 fusions, BCR-ABL1/Ph-like, high hyperdiploidy, and KMT2A fusions), we defined six additional gene expression subgroups: G9 was associated with both PAX5 and CRLF2 fusions; G10 and G11 with mutations in PAX5 (p.P80R) and IKZF1 (p.N159Y), respectively; G12 with IGH-CEBPE fusion and mutations in ZEB2 (p.H1038R); and G13 and G14 with TCF3/4-HLF and NUTM1 fusions, respectively. In pediatric BCP ALL, subgroups G2 to G5 and G7 (51 to 65/67 chromosomes) were associated with low-risk, G7 (with ≤50 chromosomes) and G9 were intermediate-risk, whereas G1, G6, and G8 were defined as high-risk subgroups. In adult BCP ALL, G1, G2, G6, and G8 were associated with high risk, while G4, G5, and G7 had relatively favorable outcomes. This large-scale transcriptome sequence analysis of BCP ALL revealed distinct molecular subgroups that reflect discrete pathways of BCP ALL, informing disease classification and prognostic stratification. The combined results strongly advocate that RNA sequencing be introduced into the clinical diagnostic workup of BCP ALL.
  13. Slik JWF, Franklin J, Arroyo-Rodríguez V, Field R, Aguilar S, Aguirre N, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2018 02 20;115(8):1837-1842.
    PMID: 29432167 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1714977115
    Knowledge about the biogeographic affinities of the world's tropical forests helps to better understand regional differences in forest structure, diversity, composition, and dynamics. Such understanding will enable anticipation of region-specific responses to global environmental change. Modern phylogenies, in combination with broad coverage of species inventory data, now allow for global biogeographic analyses that take species evolutionary distance into account. Here we present a classification of the world's tropical forests based on their phylogenetic similarity. We identify five principal floristic regions and their floristic relationships: (i) Indo-Pacific, (ii) Subtropical, (iii) African, (iv) American, and (v) Dry forests. Our results do not support the traditional neo- versus paleotropical forest division but instead separate the combined American and African forests from their Indo-Pacific counterparts. We also find indications for the existence of a global dry forest region, with representatives in America, Africa, Madagascar, and India. Additionally, a northern-hemisphere Subtropical forest region was identified with representatives in Asia and America, providing support for a link between Asian and American northern-hemisphere forests.
  14. Palmer S, Albergante L, Blackburn CC, Newman TJ
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2018 02 20;115(8):1883-1888.
    PMID: 29432166 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1714478115
    For many cancer types, incidence rises rapidly with age as an apparent power law, supporting the idea that cancer is caused by a gradual accumulation of genetic mutations. Similarly, the incidence of many infectious diseases strongly increases with age. Here, combining data from immunology and epidemiology, we show that many of these dramatic age-related increases in incidence can be modeled based on immune system decline, rather than mutation accumulation. In humans, the thymus atrophies from infancy, resulting in an exponential decline in T cell production with a half-life of ∼16 years, which we use as the basis for a minimal mathematical model of disease incidence. Our model outperforms the power law model with the same number of fitting parameters in describing cancer incidence data across a wide spectrum of different cancers, and provides excellent fits to infectious disease data. This framework provides mechanistic insight into cancer emergence, suggesting that age-related decline in T cell output is a major risk factor.
  15. Henriksson PJG, Belton B, Jahan KM, Rico A
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2018 03 20;115(12):2958-2963.
    PMID: 29507224 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1716530115
    Food production is a major driver of global environmental change and the overshoot of planetary sustainability boundaries. Greater affluence in developing nations and human population growth are also increasing demand for all foods, and for animal proteins in particular. Consequently, a growing body of literature calls for the sustainable intensification of food production, broadly defined as "producing more using less". Most assessments of the potential for sustainable intensification rely on only one or two indicators, meaning that ecological trade-offs among impact categories that occur as production intensifies may remain unaccounted for. The present study addresses this limitation using life cycle assessment (LCA) to quantify six local and global environmental consequences of intensifying aquaculture production in Bangladesh. Production data are from a unique survey of 2,678 farms, and results show multidirectional associations between the intensification of aquaculture production and its environmental impacts. Intensification (measured in material and economic output per unit primary area farmed) is positively correlated with acidification, eutrophication, and ecotoxicological impacts in aquatic ecosystems; negatively correlated with freshwater consumption; and indifferent with regard to global warming and land occupation. As production intensifies, the geographical locations of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, acidifying emissions, freshwater consumption, and land occupation shift from the immediate vicinity of the farm to more geographically dispersed telecoupled locations across the globe. Simple changes in fish farming technology and management practices that could help make the global transition to more intensive forms of aquaculture be more sustainable are identified.
  16. van Velzen R, Holmer R, Bu F, Rutten L, van Zeijl A, Liu W, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2018 05 15;115(20):E4700-E4709.
    PMID: 29717040 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1721395115
    Nodules harboring nitrogen-fixing rhizobia are a well-known trait of legumes, but nodules also occur in other plant lineages, with rhizobia or the actinomycete Frankia as microsymbiont. It is generally assumed that nodulation evolved independently multiple times. However, molecular-genetic support for this hypothesis is lacking, as the genetic changes underlying nodule evolution remain elusive. We conducted genetic and comparative genomics studies by using Parasponia species (Cannabaceae), the only nonlegumes that can establish nitrogen-fixing nodules with rhizobium. Intergeneric crosses between Parasponia andersonii and its nonnodulating relative Trema tomentosa demonstrated that nodule organogenesis, but not intracellular infection, is a dominant genetic trait. Comparative transcriptomics of P. andersonii and the legume Medicago truncatula revealed utilization of at least 290 orthologous symbiosis genes in nodules. Among these are key genes that, in legumes, are essential for nodulation, including NODULE INCEPTION (NIN) and RHIZOBIUM-DIRECTED POLAR GROWTH (RPG). Comparative analysis of genomes from three Parasponia species and related nonnodulating plant species show evidence of parallel loss in nonnodulating species of putative orthologs of NIN, RPG, and NOD FACTOR PERCEPTION Parallel loss of these symbiosis genes indicates that these nonnodulating lineages lost the potential to nodulate. Taken together, our results challenge the view that nodulation evolved in parallel and raises the possibility that nodulation originated ∼100 Mya in a common ancestor of all nodulating plant species, but was subsequently lost in many descendant lineages. This will have profound implications for translational approaches aimed at engineering nitrogen-fixing nodules in crop plants.
  17. Chen YH, Lee HJ, Lee MT, Wu YT, Lee YH, Hwang LL, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2018 11 06;115(45):E10720-E10729.
    PMID: 30348772 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1807991115
    Adequate pain management remains an unmet medical need. We previously revealed an opioid-independent analgesic mechanism mediated by orexin 1 receptor (OX1R)-initiated 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) signaling in the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG). Here, we found that low-frequency median nerve stimulation (MNS) through acupuncture needles at the PC6 (Neiguan) acupoint (MNS-PC6) induced an antinociceptive effect that engaged this mechanism. In mice, MNS-PC6 reduced acute thermal nociceptive responses and neuropathy-induced mechanical allodynia, increased the number of c-Fos-immunoreactive hypothalamic orexin neurons, and led to higher orexin A and lower GABA levels in the vlPAG. Such responses were not seen in mice with PC6 needle insertion only or electrical stimulation of the lateral deltoid, a nonmedian nerve-innervated location. Directly stimulating the surgically exposed median nerve also increased vlPAG orexin A levels. MNS-PC6-induced antinociception (MNS-PC6-IA) was prevented by proximal block of the median nerve with lidocaine as well as by systemic or intravlPAG injection of an antagonist of OX1Rs or cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1Rs) but not by opioid receptor antagonists. Systemic blockade of OX1Rs or CB1Rs also restored vlPAG GABA levels after MNS-PC6. A cannabinoid (2-AG)-dependent mechanism was also implicated by the observations that MNS-PC6-IA was prevented by intravlPAG inhibition of 2-AG synthesis and was attenuated in Cnr1-/- mice. These findings suggest that PC6-targeting low-frequency MNS activates hypothalamic orexin neurons, releasing orexins to induce analgesia through a CB1R-dependent cascade mediated by OX1R-initiated 2-AG retrograde disinhibition in the vlPAG. The opioid-independent characteristic of MNS-PC6-induced analgesia may provide a strategy for pain management in opioid-tolerant patients.
  18. Jia TZ, Chandru K, Hongo Y, Afrin R, Usui T, Myojo K, et al.
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 2019 Aug 06;116(32):15830-15835.
    PMID: 31332006 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902336116
    Compartmentalization was likely essential for primitive chemical systems during the emergence of life, both for preventing leakage of important components, i.e., genetic materials, and for enhancing chemical reactions. Although life as we know it uses lipid bilayer-based compartments, the diversity of prebiotic chemistry may have enabled primitive living systems to start from other types of boundary systems. Here, we demonstrate membraneless compartmentalization based on prebiotically available organic compounds, α-hydroxy acids (αHAs), which are generally coproduced along with α-amino acids in prebiotic settings. Facile polymerization of αHAs provides a model pathway for the assembly of combinatorially diverse primitive compartments on early Earth. We characterized membraneless microdroplets generated from homo- and heteropolyesters synthesized from drying solutions of αHAs endowed with various side chains. These compartments can preferentially and differentially segregate and compartmentalize fluorescent dyes and fluorescently tagged RNA, providing readily available compartments that could have facilitated chemical evolution by protecting, exchanging, and encapsulating primitive components. Protein function within and RNA function in the presence of certain droplets is also preserved, suggesting the potential relevance of such droplets to various origins of life models. As a lipid amphiphile can also assemble around certain droplets, this further shows the droplets' potential compatibility with and scaffolding ability for nascent biomolecular systems that could have coexisted in complex chemical systems. These model compartments could have been more accessible in a "messy" prebiotic environment, enabling the localization of a variety of protometabolic and replication processes that could be subjected to further chemical evolution before the advent of the Last Universal Common Ancestor.
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