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Cellular and Molecular Biological Approaches to Interpreting Ancient Biomarkers

Newman, Dianne K. and Neubauer, Cajetan and Ricci, Jessica N. and Wu, Chia-Hung and Pearson, Ann (2016) Cellular and Molecular Biological Approaches to Interpreting Ancient Biomarkers. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 44 . pp. 493-522. ISSN 0084-6597. doi:10.1146/annurev-earth-050212-123958.

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Our ability to read the molecular fossil record has advanced significantly in the past decade. Improvements in biomarker sampling and quantification methods, expansion of molecular sequence databases, and the application of genetic and cellular biological tools to problems in biomarker research have enabled much of this progress. By way of example, we review how attempts to understand the biological function of 2-methylhopanoids in modern bacteria have changed our interpretation of what their molecular fossils tell us about the early history of life. They were once thought to be biomarkers of cyanobacteria and hence the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis, but we now believe that 2-methylhopanoid biosynthetic capacity originated in the Alphaproteobacteria, that 2-methylhopanoids are regulated in response to stress, and that hopanoid 2-methylation enhances membrane rigidity. We present a new interpretation of 2-methylhopanes that bridges the gap between studies of the functions of 2-methylhopanoids and their patterns of occurrence in the rock record.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription
Newman, Dianne K.0000-0003-1647-1918
Neubauer, Cajetan0000-0002-5348-5609
Pearson, Ann0000-0003-2785-8405
Additional Information:© 2016 Annual Reviews. Review in Advance first posted online on May 9, 2016. This review is dedicated to Sky Rashby, who would have enjoyed knowing where his discovery led. D.K.N. is grateful to past and present members of the Newman laboratory for bringing their diverse talents to bear on a challenging problem, as well as to Alex Sessions and Roger Summons for an enjoyable long-term collaboration. We thank Nathan Dalleska and Stuart Conway for additional support with hopanoid analysis and synthesis, as well as Tanja Bosak, Andy Knoll, and Andreas Kappler for providing images used in Figure 1. Grants from the NASA Exobiology program (NNX12AD93G), National Science Foundation (1224158), and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) enabled this research. D.K.N. is an HHMI Investigator. A.P. acknowledges support from the NASA Astrobiology Institute program and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The authors are not aware of any affiliations, memberships, funding, or financial holdings that might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)UNSPECIFIED
Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:biomarkers, molecular fossils, interpretation, hopanoids, evolution, rock record
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20160531-084725317
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:67479
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:31 May 2016 23:12
Last Modified:11 Nov 2021 00:33

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