What single biological function has been essential to every living organism’s growth, health and advancement – and is more important than any other?
It’s called cell signaling; the ability of one cell in the body to ‘talk’ to another.
Now here’s another question for you. What biological process does one in every three pharmaceutical drugs attempt to assist?
Now there’s a link between today and our lifeforms all the way back to ‘slime’.
University of British Columbia researchers have identified a common ancestral gene. This gene’s function – cell signaling – enabled the evolution of advanced life over a billion years ago.
Found in all complex organisms, including plants and animals, it ‘encodes’ for a large group of enzymes known as protein kinases that enable cells to rapidly transfer information from one cell to another.
“If the duplications and subsequent mutations of this gene during evolution didn’t happen, then life would be completely different today,” said Steven Pelech, a professor in Division of Neurology in the UBC Faculty of Medicine. “The most advanced life on our planet would probably still be bacterial slime.”
Plants, animals, mushrooms and more all exist because they are made up of eukaryotic cells that are larger and far more complex than bacteria. Within these eukaryotic cells are hundreds of organelles that perform billions of diverse functions to keep them living, just as different organs do for the human body.
The new research, published this week in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, identified the gene that gave rise to protein kinases. On a cellular scale, these highly interactive signaling proteins play a role similar to the neurons in the brain by transferring information throughout the cell by a process known as protein phosphorylation.
This ability to transmit signals from one part of the cell to another not only enabled cells to become more complex internally but also allowed cells to come together to form systems, paving the way for the evolution of intelligent life.
Research into these enzymes is obviously very important to medicine. There are more than 400 human diseases like cancer and diabetes linked to problems with cell signaling.
Disease occurs when a cell gets misinformed or confused.
Today about one-third of all pharmaceutical drug development is targeted at protein kinases. For more than 30 years, researchers have known that most protein kinases came from a common ancestor because their genes are so similar.
“From sequencing the genomes of humans, we knew that about 500 genes for different protein kinases all had similar blueprints,” said Pelech. “Our new research revealed that the gene probably originated from bacteria for facilitating the synthesis of proteins and then mutated to acquire completely new functions.”
Cell signaling has another ally which is most unlike any pharmaceutical drug. Molecular hydrogen is the subject of 700 scientific studies, over a 150+ range of disease conditions, and as well as been identified as a potential selective antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergenic, it has also been studied for its ability to assist cell signaling.
Why should we care? We have our cupboard full of pills and potions. Why should we try molecular hydrogen?
The secret lies in its nature. H2 – molecular hydrogen is the smallest molecule in the universe, made up of two of the smallest atoms in the universe. This gives it unique properties that place it in a class of its own. Firstly, its size means the once in the body it has the ability to pass through any part of the body, including bone, muscle, even into the mitochondria within a single cell. Secondly, it is a simple molecule. What it does – it’s shouldn’t do. Pharma giants are shaking their heads in disbelief at the results users are claiming – results normally reserved for expensive and complex formulated drugs. In truth, at this stage of research, no-one knows why it has so many therapeutic effects, but the results are certainly obvious in the studies.
Want to learn more? Check this slideshow prepared by Erica Whisson, AlkaWay’s in-house naturopath.