skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 10:00 PM ET on Friday, December 8 until 2:00 AM ET on Saturday, December 9 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Search for: All records

Creators/Authors contains: "McGlynn, Shawn E."

Note: When clicking on a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number, you will be taken to an external site maintained by the publisher. Some full text articles may not yet be available without a charge during the embargo (administrative interval).
What is a DOI Number?

Some links on this page may take you to non-federal websites. Their policies may differ from this site.

  1. Elofsson, Arne (Ed.)
    As sequence and structure comparison algorithms gain sensitivity, the intrinsic interconnectedness of the protein universe has become increasingly apparent. Despite this general trend, β-trefoils have emerged as an uncommon counterexample: They are an isolated protein lineage for which few, if any, sequence or structure associations to other lineages have been identified. If β-trefoils are, in fact, remote islands in sequence-structure space, it implies that the oligomerizing peptide that founded the β-trefoil lineage itself arose de novo . To better understand β-trefoil evolution, and to probe the limits of fragment sharing across the protein universe, we identified both ‘β-trefoil bridging themes’ (evolutionarily-related sequence segments) and ‘β-trefoil-like motifs’ (structure motifs with a hallmark feature of the β-trefoil architecture) in multiple, ostensibly unrelated, protein lineages. The success of the present approach stems, in part, from considering β-trefoil sequence segments or structure motifs rather than the β-trefoil architecture as a whole, as has been done previously. The newly uncovered inter-lineage connections presented here suggest a novel hypothesis about the origins of the β-trefoil fold itself–namely, that it is a derived fold formed by ‘budding’ from an Immunoglobulin-like β-sandwich protein. These results demonstrate how the evolution of a folded domain from a peptide need not be a signature of antiquity and underpin an emerging truth: few protein lineages escape nature’s sewing table. 
    more » « less
  2. Under anaerobic conditions, ferrous iron reacts with sulfide producing FeS, which can then undergo a temperature, redox potential, and pH dependent maturation process resulting in the formation of oxidized mineral phases, such as greigite or pyrite. A greater understanding of this maturation process holds promise for the development of iron-sulfide catalysts, which are known to promote diverse chemical reactions, such as H + , CO 2 and NO 3 − reduction processes. Hampering the full realization of the catalytic potential of FeS, however, is an incomplete knowledge of the molecular and redox processess ocurring between mineral and nanoparticulate phases. Here, we investigated the chemical properties of iron-sulfide by cyclic voltammetry, Raman and X-ray absorption spectroscopic techniques. Tracing oxidative maturation pathways by varying electrode potential, nanoparticulate n (Fe 2+ S 2− ) (s) was found to oxidize to a Fe 3+ containing FeS phase at −0.5 V vs. Ag/AgCl (pH = 7). In a subsequent oxidation, polysulfides are proposed to give a material that is composed of Fe 2+ , Fe 3+ , S 2− and polysulfide (S n 2− ) species, with its composition described as Fe 2+ 1−3 x Fe 3+ 2 x S 2− 1− y (S n 2− ) y . Thermodynamic properties of model compounds calculated by density functional theory indicate that ligand oxidation occurs in conjunction with structural rearrangements, whereas metal oxidation may occur prior to structural rearrangement. These findings together point to the existence of a metastable FeS phase located at the junction of a metal-based oxidation path between FeS and greigite (Fe 2+ Fe 3+ 2 S 2− 4 ) and a ligand-based oxidation path between FeS and pyrite (Fe 2+ (S 2 ) 2− ). 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    Thioesters are important intermediates in both synthetic organic and biosynthetic reaction pathways. Here we show that thioesters can be synthesized in an aqueous reaction between thioacetate and thiols. The reaction can be coupled to a second reaction between sulfide and either ferrous or ferric iron, which drives the reaction forward. We furthermore demonstrate that sulfide released during thioester formation can be used in the synthesis of peptide bound [Fe–S] clusters, which like thioesters, are ancient components of metabolism. Together our results reveal a primordial linkage between high-energy ester formation and redox chemistry. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract Comparative genomics and molecular phylogenetics are foundational for understanding biological evolution. Although many studies have been made with the aim of understanding the genomic contents of early life, uncertainty remains. A study by Weiss et al. (Weiss MC, Sousa FL, Mrnjavac N, Neukirchen S, Roettger M, Nelson-Sathi S, Martin WF. 2016. The physiology and habitat of the last universal common ancestor. Nat Microbiol. 1(9):16116.) identified a number of protein families in the last universal common ancestor of archaea and bacteria (LUCA) which were not found in previous works. Here, we report new research that suggests the clustering approaches used in this previous study undersampled protein families, resulting in incomplete phylogenetic trees which do not reflect protein family evolution. Phylogenetic analysis of protein families which include more sequence homologs rejects a simple LUCA hypothesis based on phylogenetic separation of the bacterial and archaeal domains for a majority of the previously identified LUCA proteins (∼82%). To supplement limitations of phylogenetic inference derived from incompletely populated orthologous groups and to test the hypothesis of a period of rapid evolution preceding the separation of the domains, we compared phylogenetic distances both within and between domains, for thousands of orthologous groups. We find a substantial diversity of interdomain versus intradomain branch lengths, even among protein families which exhibit a single domain separating branch and are thought to be associated with the LUCA. Additionally, phylogenetic trees with long interdomain branches relative to intradomain branches are enriched in information categories of protein families in comparison to those associated with metabolic functions. These results provide a new view of protein family evolution and temper claims about the phenotype and habitat of the LUCA. 
    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    All life on Earth is built of organic molecules, so the primordial sources of reduced carbon remain a major open question in studies of the origin of life. A variant of the alkaline-hydrothermal-vent theory for life’s emergence suggests that organics could have been produced by the reduction of CO 2 via H 2 oxidation, facilitated by geologically sustained pH gradients. The process would be an abiotic analog—and proposed evolutionary predecessor—of the Wood–Ljungdahl acetyl-CoA pathway of modern archaea and bacteria. The first energetic bottleneck of the pathway involves the endergonic reduction of CO 2 with H 2 to formate (HCOO – ), which has proven elusive in mild abiotic settings. Here we show the reduction of CO 2 with H 2 at room temperature under moderate pressures (1.5 bar), driven by microfluidic pH gradients across inorganic Fe(Ni)S precipitates. Isotopic labeling with 13 C confirmed formate production. Separately, deuterium ( 2 H) labeling indicated that electron transfer to CO 2 does not occur via direct hydrogenation with H 2 but instead, freshly deposited Fe(Ni)S precipitates appear to facilitate electron transfer in an electrochemical-cell mechanism with two distinct half-reactions. Decreasing the pH gradient significantly, removing H 2 , or eliminating the precipitate yielded no detectable product. Our work demonstrates the feasibility of spatially separated yet electrically coupled geochemical reactions as drivers of otherwise endergonic processes. Beyond corroborating the ability of early-Earth alkaline hydrothermal systems to couple carbon reduction to hydrogen oxidation through biologically relevant mechanisms, these results may also be of significance for industrial and environmental applications, where other redox reactions could be facilitated using similarly mild approaches. 
    more » « less
  6. Abstract Hydrogenation reactions are a major route of electron and proton flow on Earth. Interfacing geology and organic chemistry, hydrogenations occupy pivotal points in the Earth’s global geochemical cycles. Some examples of hydrogenation reactions on Earth today include the production and consumption of methane in both abiotic and biotic reactions, the reduction of protons in hydrothermal settings, and the biological synthesis and degradation of fatty acids. Hydrogenation reactions were likely important for prebiotic chemistry on the early Earth, and today serve as one of the fundamental reaction classes that enable cellular life to construct biomolecules. An understanding and awareness of hydrogenation reactions is helpful for comprehending the larger web of molecular and material inter-conversions on our planet. In this brief review we detail some important hydrogenation and dehydrogenation reactions as they relate to geology, biology, industry, and atmospheric chemistry. Such reactions have implications ranging from the suite of reactions on early Earth to industrial applications like the production of hydrocarbon fuel. 
    more » « less
  7. null (Ed.)
  8. Abstract Accurate determination of the evolutionary relationships between genes is a foundational challenge in biology. Homology—evolutionary relatedness—is in many cases readily determined based on sequence similarity analysis. By contrast, whether or not two genes directly descended from a common ancestor by a speciation event (orthologs) or duplication event (paralogs) is more challenging, yet provides critical information on the history of a gene. Since 2009, this task has been the focus of the Quest for Orthologs (QFO) Consortium. The sixth QFO meeting took place in Okazaki, Japan in conjunction with the 67th National Institute for Basic Biology conference. Here, we report recent advances, applications, and oncoming challenges that were discussed during the conference. Steady progress has been made toward standardization and scalability of new and existing tools. A feature of the conference was the presentation of a panel of accessible tools for phylogenetic profiling and several developments to bring orthology beyond the gene unit—from domains to networks. This meeting brought into light several challenges to come: leveraging orthology computations to get the most of the incoming avalanche of genomic data, integrating orthology from domain to biological network levels, building better gene models, and adapting orthology approaches to the broad evolutionary and genomic diversity recognized in different forms of life and viruses. 
    more » « less