At the Origin of Life: How Did Folded Proteins Evolve?
Proteins are essential building blocks of living cells; indeed, life can be viewed as resulting substantially from the chemical activity of proteins. Because of their importance, it is hardly surprising that ancestors for most proteins observed today were already present at the time of the ‘last common ancestor’, a primordial organism from which all life on Earth is descended. Yet folded proteins are too complex to have arisen de novo. How then did they evolve? We are pursuing the hypothesis that folded proteins evolved by fusion and recombination from an ancestral set of peptides, which emerged in the context of RNA-dependent replication and catalysis (the “RNA world”). Systematic studies should allow a description of this ancient peptide set in the same way in which ancient vocabularies have been reconstructed from the comparative study of modern languages.
About the Keynote Speaker. Born on September 6, 1963 in Bucharest (Romania). Studies in Biology at the Technical University Munich (1982–1985) and in Molecular Biology at Princeton University (1985–1990); PhD with Jeff Stock on the mechanism of signal transduction in bacterial chemotaxis (1991). Postdoctoral fellow with Andreas Plueckthun at the Gene Center of the University, Munich (1992–1993), working on antibody engineering. Research assistant with Wolfgang Baumeister at the Max-Planck-Institute for Biochemistry, Martinsried (1992–1997), working on the development and application of sequence analysis tools, and on the structure and function of the proteasome. Senior Computational Biologist, later Assistant Director of Bioinformatics, at SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, Collegeville, USA (1997–2001). Since 2001, director of the department of protein evolution at the Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology, Tuebingen.