Simple peptides can organize into bi-layer membranes. This recent finding suggests a “missing link” between the pre-biotic Earth’s chemical inventory and the organizational scaffolding essential to life.
“We’ve shown that peptides can form the kind of membranes needed to create long-range order,” says Seth Childers, a chemistry graduate student at Emory University and lead author of the paper recently published by the German Chemical Society’s Angwandte Chemie. “What’s also interesting is that these peptide membranes may have the potential to function in a complex way, like a protein.”
Yan Liang, a post-doctoral fellow in neuroscience, captured images of the peptides as they aggregated into molten globular structures, and self-assembled into bi-layer membranes. The results of that experiment were recently published by the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
“In order to form nuclei, which become the templates for growth, the peptides first repel water,” says Liang. “Once the peptides form the template, we can now see how they assemble from the outer edges.”
In addition to providing clues to the origins of life, the findings may shed light on protein assemblies related to Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, and dozens of other serious ailments.