Experimental evidence for the thermophilicity of ancestral life

Satoshi Akanuma, Yoshiki Nakajima, Shin Ichi Yokobori, Mitsuo Kimura, Naoki Nemoto, Tomoko Mase, Ken Ichi Miyazono, Masaru Tanokura, Akihiko Yamagishi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Citations (Scopus)


Theoretical studies have focused on the environmental temperature of the universal common ancestor of life with conflicting conclusions. Here we provide experimental support for the existence of a thermophilic universal common ancestor. We present the thermal stabilities and catalytic efficiencies of nucleoside diphosphate kinases (NDK), designed using the information contained in predictive phylogenetic trees, that seem to represent the last common ancestors of Archaea and of Bacteria. These enzymes display extreme thermal stabilities, suggesting thermophilic ancestries for Archaea and Bacteria. The results are robust to the uncertainties associated with the sequence predictions and to the tree topologies used to infer the ancestral sequences. Moreover, mutagenesis experiments suggest that the universal ancestor also possessed a very thermostable NDK. Because, as we show, the stability of an NDK is directly related to the environmental temperature of its host organism, our results indicate that the last common ancestor of extant life was a thermophile that flourished at a very high temperature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11067-11072
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number27
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Jul 2
Externally publishedYes


  • Ancient protein
  • Crystal structure
  • Last universal common ancestor
  • Molecular resurrection
  • Phylogenetic analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Experimental evidence for the thermophilicity of ancestral life'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this