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‘Nickelback’ peptide may have kickstarted life on Earth, scientists say


  TORONTO (CTV Network) -- In a study published in the peer-reviewed Science Advances journal, researchers from Rutgers University say a peptide containing nickel atoms may have sparked life on Earth.

A peptide is a molecule made up of short chains of amino acids, which are the molecules that form proteins. This particular peptide has two critical nickel atoms bonded with its nitrogen atoms, leading scientists nickname the molecule "Nickelback."

Members of the university's Evolution of Nanomachines in Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors (ENIGMA) team were researching how proteins might have been able to kickstart life on earth, specifically looking for a chemical that would be simple enough to have been around in the early stages of life yet chemically active enough to absorb energy from the environment to create life.

Scientists analyzed complex proteins that, while they were too advanced to have emerged so early on, have been linked to the metabolic process of transforming small molecules. By looking at the base of these proteins, they concluded Nickelback may be a "pioneer peptide."

"We believe the change was sparked by a few small precursor proteins that performed key steps in an ancient metabolic reaction. And we think we've found one of these 'pioneer peptides,'" one of the authors of the study, Vikas Nanda said in a news release.

Based on their findings, the researchers reasoned the early oceans may have been rich with nickel, and this peptide containing the two nickel atoms were able to attract various protons and electrons, producing hydrogen gas. Since hydrogen is an imperative source of energy for the metabolic process, the researchers believe we may have Nickelback to thank for the start of life on Earth.

"This work shows that, not only are simple protein metabolic enzymes possible, but that they are very stable and very active, making them a plausible starting point for life," Nanda said. For more news, visit:

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