Scientists have developed an artificial protein that could offer new insights into chemical evolution on early Earth.
All cells need energy to survive, but because the kinds of chemicals available during the planet's early days were so limited compared to today's vast scope of chemical diversity.
The research provides evidence that many of the organisms within Earth's primordial soup heavily relied on metal molecules, specifically nickel, to help store and expend energy.
Current theories about how microbial life arose suggest that while cells used carbon dioxide and hydrogen as a fuel source, they also inhabited areas rich in reduced metals like iron and nickel.
But for years, scientists in the field have been split on how this enzyme actually works.
Artificial model of the enzyme reveals a lot about how its native ancestor might have acted during Earth's first few billion years.
Compared to what scientists find in nature, this model protein is much easier to study and manipulate.
Because of this, the team was able to conclude that ACS does, in fact, have to build molecules one step at a time.
Such information is crucial to understanding how organic chemistry on Earth began to mature.
At the moment, one of the biggest challenges the energy sector faces is making liquid fuel.
Yet this study could be the first step in finding a natural energy source that could replace the gasoline and oil humans overuse.