A Combinatorial Approach to Biochemical Space: Description and Application to the Redox Distribution of Metabolism
Author(s)Bains, William; Seager, Sara
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Redox chemistry is central to life on Earth. It is well known that life uses redox chemistry to capture energy from environmental chemical energy gradients. Here, we propose that a second use of redox chemistry, related to building biomass from environmental carbon, is equally important to life. We apply a method based on chemical structure to evaluate the redox range of different groups of terrestrial biochemicals, and find that they are consistently of intermediate redox range. We hypothesize the common intermediate range is related to the chemical space required for the selection of a consistent set of metabolites. We apply a computational method to show that the redox range of the chemical space shows the same restricted redox range as the biochemicals that are selected from that space. By contrast, the carbon from which life is composed is available in the environment only as fully oxidized or reduced species. We therefore argue that redox chemistry is essential to life for assembling biochemicals for biomass building. This biomass-building reason for life to require redox chemistry is in addition (and in contrast) to life's use of redox chemistry to capture energy. Life's use of redox chemistry for biomass capture will generate chemical by-products—that is, biosignature gases—that are not in redox equilibrium with life's environment. These potential biosignature gases may differ from energy-capture redox biosignatures. Key Words: Metabolism—Modeling studies—Redox—Biosignatures. Astrobiology 12, 271–281.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Physics
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
Bains, William, and Sara Seager. “A Combinatorial Approach to Biochemical Space: Description and Application to the Redox Distribution of Metabolism.” Astrobiology 12.3 (2012): 271–281. Web.
Final published version