Wednesday, 03 Sep, 2008 Science
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Scientists to Use New Method of Tracing the Origin of Life on Earth

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How life appeared on Earth can be now investigated through a new computational method developed by scientists from the Penn state University in the US. The new method can track the evolutionary histories of proteins way back to cells or viruses. Thus scientists will be able to determine which of these life forms appeared on our planet first.

"We have just begun to tap the potential power of this method. We believe, if it is possible at all, that it is within our grasp to determine whether viruses evolved from cells or vice-versa", said Randen Patterson, a Penn State assistant professor of biology who is also one of the project's leaders.

Scientists will analyze an ancient group of proteins, called retroelements. It is worth mentioning that retroelements are an important component of a number of diseases, including AIDS.

"Retroelements are an ancient and highly diverse class of proteins; therefore, they provide a rigorous benchmark for us to test our approach. We are happy with the results we derived, even though our method is in an early stage," said Patterson.

The group of researches looks forward to make the algorithms that they used in their computational method available to public. Their open-source software will be available on the Web.

According to the research paper, in order to map out the evolutionary histories of retroelements scientists used 11 groups of the retroelement proteins, which ranged from bacteria to human HIV.

Researchers used a computer algorithm to create evolutionary profiles that are compared all-against-all. But the new method can not only track the evolutionary histories – it may also estimate functional and structural features simultaneously, said Damian van Rossum, Penn State research associate/assistant professor of biology and one of the project's leaders.

Source: NewstrackIndia

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