How biosynthesis of amino acids points to a created process
Could the oxygen and nitrogen cicle be explained by naturalistic means ? The reason for the abundance of oxygen in the atmosphere is the presence of a very large number of organisms which produce oxygen as a byproduct of their metabolism. Cyanobacteria or blue-green algae became the first microbes to produce oxygen by photosynthesis. They are one of the oldest bacteria that live on earth, said to exist perhaps as long as 3.5 billion years. And their capabilities are nothing more than astounding. No cianobacteria, no oxygen, no higher life forms. These cianobacterias have incredibly sophisticated enzyme proteins and metabolic pathways, like the electron transport chains, ATP synthase motors, circadian clock, the photosynthetic light reactions, carbon concentration mechanism, and transcriptional regulation , they produce binded nitrogen through nitrogenase, a highly sophisticated mechanism to bind nitrogen, used as a nutrient for plant and animal growth.
The Nitrogen cycle is a lot more complex than the carbon cycle. Nitrogen is a very important element. It makes up almost 80% of our atmosphere, and it is an important component of proteins and DNA, both of which are the building blocks of animals and plants. Therefore without nitrogen we would lose one of the most important elements on this planet, along with oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. There are a number of stages to the nitrogen cycle, which involve breaking down and building up nitrogen and it’s various compounds.There is no real starting point for the nitrogen cycle. It is an endless cycle. Potential gaps in the system cannot be reasonably bypassed by inorganic nature alone. It must have a degree of specificity that in all probability could not have been produced by chance.
A given function or step in the system may be found in several different unrelated organisms. The removal of any one of the individual biological steps will resort in the loss of function of the system. The data suggest that the nitrogen cycle may be irreducibly interdependent based on the above criteria. No proposed neo-Darwinian mechanisms can explain the origin of such a system.The ultimate source of nitrogen for the biosynthesis of amino acids is atmospheric nitrogen (N2), a nearly inert gas. Its needed by all living things to build proteins and nucleic acids. This is one of the hardest chemical bonds of all to break. So, how can nitrogen be brought out of its tremendous reserves in the atmosphere and into a state where it can be used by living things?
To be metabolically useful, atmospheric nitrogen must be reduced. It must be converted to a useful form. Without “fixed” nitrogen, plants, and therefore animals, could not exist as we know them. This process, known as nitrogen fixation, occurs through lightening, but most in certain types of bacteria, namely cianobacteria. Even though nitrogen is one of the most prominent chemical elements in living systems, N2 is almost unreactive (and very stable) because of its triple bond (N≡N). This bond is extremely difficult to break because the three chemical bonds need to be separated and bonded to different compounds. Nitrogenase is the only family of enzymes capable of breaking this bond (i.e., it carries out nitrogen fixation). Nitrogenase is a very complex enzyme system. Nitrogenase genes are distributed throughout the prokaryotic kingdom, including representatives of the Archaea as well as the Eubacteria and Cyanobacteria.With assistance from an energy source (ATP) and a powerful and specific complementary reducing agent (ferredoxin), nitrogen molecules are bound and cleaved with surgical precision.
In this way, a ‘molecular sledgehammer’ is applied to the NN bond, and a single nitrogen molecule yields two molecules of ammonia. The ammonia then ascends the ‘food chain’, and is used as amino groups in protein synthesis for plants and animals. This is a very tiny mechanism, but multiplied on a large scale it is of critical importance in allowing plant growth and food production on our planet to continue. ‘Nature is really good at it (nitrogen-splitting), so good in fact that we’ve had difficulty in copying chemically the essence of what bacteria do so well.’ If one merely substitutes the name of God for the word ‘nature’, the real picture emerges.These proteins use a collection of metal ions as the electron carriers that are responsible for the reduction of N2 to NH3. All organisms can then use this reduced nitrogen (NH3) to make amino acids. In humans, reduced nitrogen enters the physiological system in dietary sources containing amino acids. One thing is certain—that matter obeying existing laws of chemistry could not have created, on its own, such a masterpiece of chemical engineering.Without cyanobacteria - no fixed nitrogen is available.Without fixed nitrogen, no DNA, no amino-acids, no protein can be synthesised. Without DNA, no amino-acids,protein, or cyanobacteria are possible. So thats a interdependent system.
Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins. Twenty chemically distinct amino acids comprise the proteins found in every organism on Earth. That is, the set of amino acids used in biology is universal. Yet, hundreds of amino acids exist in nature. Why does nature use the specific set of 20 amino acids, and not others existing, to make proteins ? 1
This question leads to other related why questions:
- Why are proteins built from amino acids? Why not build them from the chemically simpler hydroxy acids?
- Why do only amino acids and sugars only in one enantiomeric form in most biological systems exist on earth ?
- Why are the amino acids in proteins α-amino acids? Why not β- or γ- or δ-amino acids?
- Why do all the amino acids in proteins have an α-hydrogen?
- Why are there no N-alkyl amino acids in proteins?
Many naturally occurring amino acids possess these structural features. Shouldn’t at least some of these alternative compounds have made their way into proteins? Why did they not ? The team conducted a quantitative comparison of the range of chemical and physical properties possessed by the 20 protein-building amino acids versus random sets of amino acids that could have been selected from early Earth’s hypothetical prebiotic soup. They concluded that the set of 20 amino acids is optimal.
It turns out that the set of amino acids found in biological systems possess properties that evenly and uniformly varies across a broad range of sizes, charges, and hydrophobicities. They also demonstrate that the amino acids selected for proteins is a “highly unusual set of 20 amino acids; a maximum of 0.03% random sets out-performed the standard amino acid alphabet in two properties, while no single random set exhibited greater coverage in all three properties simultaneously.” 2
The synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids from small molecule precursors represents one of the most difficult challenges to the model of prebiological evolution. 3 There are many different problems confronted by any proposal. Polymerization is a reaction in which water is a product. Thus it will only be favored in the absence of water. The presence of precursors in an ocean of water favors depolymerization of any molecules that might be formed. Careful experiments done in an aqueous solution with very high concentrations of amino acids demonstrate the impossibility of significant polymerization in this environment.
Polymer formation in aqueous environments would most likely have been necessary on early Earth because the liquid ocean would have been the reservoir of amino acid precursors needed for protein synthesis. 3
A thermodynamic analysis of a mixture of protein and amino acids in an ocean containing a 1 molar solution of each amino acid (100,000,000 times higher concentration than we inferred to be present in the prebiological ocean) indicates the concentration of a protein containing just 100 peptide bonds (101 amino acids) at equilibrium would be 10-338 molar. Just to make this number meaningful, our universe may have a volume somewhere in the neighborhood of 10^85 liters. At 10-338 molar, we would need an ocean with a volume equal to 10229 universes (100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000) just to find a single molecule of any protein with 100 peptide bonds. So we must look elsewhere for a mechanism to produce polymers. It will not happen in the ocean.
Sidney Fox, an amino acid chemist, and one of my professors in graduate school, recognized the problem and set about constructing an alternative. Since water is unfavorable to peptide bond formation, the absence of water must favor the reaction. Fox attempted to melt pure crystalline amino acids in order to promote peptide bond formation by driving off water from the mix. He discovered to his dismay that most amino acids broke down to a tarry degradation product long before they melted. After many tries he discovered two of the 20 amino acids, aspartic and glutamic acid, would melt to a liquid at about 200oC. He further discovered that if he were to dissolve the other amino acids in the molten aspartic and glutamic acids, he could produce a melt containing up to 50% of the remaining 18 amino acids. It was no surprise then that the amber liquid, after cooking for a few hours , contained polymers of amino acids with some of the properties of proteins. He subsequently named the product proteinoids. The polymerized material can be poured into an aqueous solution, resulting in the formation of spherules of protein-like material which Fox has likened to cells. Fox has claimed nearly every conceivable property for his product, including that he had bridged the macromolecule to cell transition. He even went so far as to demonstrate a piece of lava rock could substitute for the test tube in proteinoid synthesis and claimed the process took place on the primitive earth on the flanks of volcanoes.
Experimental evidence indicates that if there are bonding preferences between amino acids, they are not the ones found in natural organisms. There are three basic requirements for a biologically functional protein. 4
One: It must have a specific sequence of amino acids. At best prebiotic experiments have produced only random polymers. And many of the amino acids included are not found in living organisms.
Second: An amino acid with a given chemical formula may in its structure be either “righthanded” (D-amino acids) or “left-handed” (L-amino acids). Living organisms incorporate only L-amino acids. However, in prebiotic experiments where amino acids are formed approximately equal numbers of D- and L-amino acids are found. This is an “intractable problem” for chemical evolution (p. vi).
Third: In some amino acids there are more positions than one on the molecule where the amino and carboxyl groups may join to form a peptide bond. In natural proteins only alpha peptide bonds (designating the location of the bond) are found. In proteinoids, however, beta, gamma and epsilon peptide bonds largely predominate. Just the opposite of what one would expect if bonding preferences played a role in prebiotic evolution.