The Possible Origin of the Biochemical Function of Proteins and its Implications for the Origin of Life
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Living systems have chiral molecules,; e.g., native proteins almost entirely contain L-amino acids. How protein homochirality emerged from a background of equal numbers of L and D amino acids is among many questions about life’s origin. The origin of homochirality and its implications are explored in computer simulations examining the stability, structural and functional properties of an artificial library of compact proteins containing 1:1, termed demi-chiral, 3:1 and 1:3 ratios of D:L and purely L or D amino acids generated without functional selection. Demi-chiral proteins have shorter secondary structures, fewer internal hydrogen bonds, and are less stable than homochiral proteins. Selection for hydrogen bonding yields a preponderance of L or D amino acids. Demi-chiral proteins have native global folds, including similarity to early ribosomal proteins, similar small molecule ligand binding pocket geometries, and many constellations of L-chiral amino acids with a 1.0 Å RMSD to native enzyme active sites. For a representative subset containing 550 active site geometries matching 457 (2) four (three) E.C digits, native active site amino acids were generated at random for 472/550 cases. This increases to 548/550 cases when similar residues are allowed. The most frequently generated sequences correspond to ancient enzymatic functions, e.g., glycolysis, replication, and nucleotide biosynthesis. Surprisingly, even without selection, demi-chiral proteins possess the requisite marginal biochemical function and structure of modern proteins, but were thermodynamically less stable. If demi-chiral proteins were present, they could engage in early metabolism, which created the feedback loop for transcription and cell formation.