Resurrected Rubisco suggests uniform carbon isotope signatures over geologic time

Cell Rep. 2022 Apr 26;39(4):110726. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.110726.


The earliest geochemical indicators of microbes-and the enzymes that powered them-extend back ∼3.8 Ga on Earth. Paleobiologists often attempt to understand these indicators by assuming that the behaviors of extant microbes and enzymes are uniform with those of their predecessors. This consistency in behavior seems at odds with our understanding of the inherent variability of living systems. Here, we examine whether a uniformitarian assumption for an enzyme thought to generate carbon isotope indicators of biological activity, RuBisCO, can be corroborated by independently studying the history of changes recorded within RuBisCO's genetic sequences. We resurrected a Precambrian-age RuBisCO by engineering its ancient DNA inside a cyanobacterium genome and measured the engineered organism's fitness and carbon-isotope-discrimination profile. Results indicate that Precambrian uniformitarian assumptions may be warranted but with important caveats. Experimental studies illuminating early innovations are crucial to explore the molecular foundations of life's earliest traces.

Keywords: CP: Microbiology; RuBisCO; ancestral sequence reconstruction; biosignatures; carbon fixation; carbon isotope record; early life; molecular paleobiology; paleogenetics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria* / genetics
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase* / chemistry
  • Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase* / genetics


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase