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1.  A canonical FtsZ protein in Verrucomicrobium spinosum, a member of the Bacterial phylum Verrucomicrobia that also includes tubulin-producing Prosthecobacter species 
The origin and evolution of the homologous GTP-binding cytoskeletal proteins FtsZ typical of Bacteria and tubulin characteristic of eukaryotes is a major question in molecular evolutionary biology. Both FtsZ and tubulin are central to key cell biology processes – bacterial septation and cell division in the case of FtsZ and in the case of tubulins the function of microtubules necessary for mitosis and other key cytoskeleton-dependent processes in eukaryotes. The origin of tubulin in particular is of significance to models for eukaryote origins. Most members of domain Bacteria possess FtsZ, but bacteria in genus Prosthecobacter of the phylum Verrucomicrobia form a key exception, possessing tubulin homologs BtubA and BtubB. It is therefore of interest to know whether other members of phylum Verrucomicrobia possess FtsZ or tubulin as their FtsZ-tubulin gene family representative.
Verrucomicrobium spinosum, a member of Phylum Verrucomicrobia of domain Bacteria, has been found to possess a gene for a protein homologous to the cytoskeletal protein FtsZ. The deduced amino acid sequence has sequence signatures and predicted secondary structure characteristic for FtsZ rather than tubulin, but phylogenetic trees and sequence analysis indicate that it is divergent from all other known FtsZ sequences in members of domain Bacteria. The FtsZ gene of V. spinosum is located within a dcw gene cluster exhibiting gene order conservation known to contribute to the divisome in other Bacteria and comparable to these clusters in other Bacteria, suggesting a similar functional role.
Verrucomicrobium spinosum has been found to possess a gene for a protein homologous to the cytoskeletal protein FtsZ. The results suggest the functional as well as structural homology of the V. spinosum FtsZ to the FtsZs of other Bacteria implying its involvement in cell septum formation during division. Thus, both bacteria-like FtsZ and eukaryote-like tubulin cytoskeletal homologs occur in different species of the phylum Verrucomicrobia of domain Bacteria, a result with potential major implications for understanding evolution of tubulin-like cytoskeletal proteins and the origin of eukaryote tubulins.
PMCID: PMC1845146  PMID: 17349062
2.  Two new families of the FtsZ-tubulin protein superfamily implicated in membrane remodeling in diverse bacteria and archaea 
Biology Direct  2010;5:33.
Several recent discoveries reveal unexpected versatility of the bacterial and archaeal cytoskeleton systems that are involved in cell division and other processes based on membrane remodeling. Here we apply methods for distant protein sequence similarity detection, phylogenetic approaches, and genome context analysis to described two previously unnoticed families of the FtsZ-tubulin superfamily. One of these families is limited in its spread to Proteobacteria whereas the other is represented in diverse bacteria and archaea, and might be the key component of a novel, multicomponent membrane remodeling system that also includes a Von Willebrand A domain-containing protein, a distinct GTPase and membrane transport proteins of the OmpA family.
This article was reviewed by Purificación López-García and Gáspár Jékely; for complete reviews, see the Reviewers Reports section.
PMCID: PMC2875224  PMID: 20459678
3.  Enrichment and Genome Sequence of the Group I.1a Ammonia-Oxidizing Archaeon “Ca. Nitrosotenuis uzonensis” Representing a Clade Globally Distributed in Thermal Habitats 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e80835.
The discovery of ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) of the phylum Thaumarchaeota and the high abundance of archaeal ammonia monooxygenase subunit A encoding gene sequences in many environments have extended our perception of nitrifying microbial communities. Moreover, AOA are the only aerobic ammonia oxidizers known to be active in geothermal environments. Molecular data indicate that in many globally distributed terrestrial high-temperature habits a thaumarchaeotal lineage within the Nitrosopumilus cluster (also called “marine” group I.1a) thrives, but these microbes have neither been isolated from these systems nor functionally characterized in situ yet. In this study, we report on the enrichment and genomic characterization of a representative of this lineage from a thermal spring in Kamchatka. This thaumarchaeote, provisionally classified as “Candidatus Nitrosotenuis uzonensis”, is a moderately thermophilic, non-halophilic, chemolithoautotrophic ammonia oxidizer. The nearly complete genome sequence (assembled into a single scaffold) of this AOA confirmed the presence of the typical thaumarchaeotal pathways for ammonia oxidation and carbon fixation, and indicated its ability to produce coenzyme F420 and to chemotactically react to its environment. Interestingly, like members of the genus Nitrosoarchaeum, “Candidatus N. uzonensis” also possesses a putative artubulin-encoding gene. Genome comparisons to related AOA with available genome sequences confirmed that the newly cultured AOA has an average nucleotide identity far below the species threshold and revealed a substantial degree of genomic plasticity with unique genomic regions in “Ca. N. uzonensis”, which potentially include genetic determinants of ecological niche differentiation.
PMCID: PMC3835317  PMID: 24278328
4.  Six Subgroups and Extensive Recent Duplications Characterize the Evolution of the Eukaryotic Tubulin Protein Family 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2014;6(9):2274-2288.
Tubulins belong to the most abundant proteins in eukaryotes providing the backbone for many cellular substructures like the mitotic and meiotic spindles, the intracellular cytoskeletal network, and the axonemes of cilia and flagella. Homologs have even been reported for archaea and bacteria. However, a taxonomically broad and whole-genome-based analysis of the tubulin protein family has never been performed, and thus, the number of subfamilies, their taxonomic distribution, and the exact grouping of the supposed archaeal and bacterial homologs are unknown. Here, we present the analysis of 3,524 tubulins from 504 species. The tubulins formed six major subfamilies, α to ζ. Species of all major kingdoms of the eukaryotes encode members of these subfamilies implying that they must have already been present in the last common eukaryotic ancestor. The proposed archaeal homologs grouped together with the bacterial TubZ proteins as sister clade to the FtsZ proteins indicating that tubulins are unique to eukaryotes. Most species contained α- and/or β-tubulin gene duplicates resulting from recent branch- and species-specific duplication events. This shows that tubulins cannot be used for constructing species phylogenies without resolving their ortholog–paralog relationships. The many gene duplicates and also the independent loss of the δ-, ε-, or ζ-tubulins, which have been shown to be part of the triplet microtubules in basal bodies, suggest that tubulins can functionally substitute each other.
PMCID: PMC4202323  PMID: 25169981
tubulin; TubZ; artubulin; FtsZ; eukaryotic evolution; gene duplication
5.  Uniting sex and eukaryote origins in an emerging oxygenic world 
Biology Direct  2010;5:53.
Theories about eukaryote origins (eukaryogenesis) need to provide unified explanations for the emergence of diverse complex features that define this lineage. Models that propose a prokaryote-to-eukaryote transition are gridlocked between the opposing "phagocytosis first" and "mitochondria as seed" paradigms, neither of which fully explain the origins of eukaryote cell complexity. Sex (outcrossing with meiosis) is an example of an elaborate trait not yet satisfactorily addressed in theories about eukaryogenesis. The ancestral nature of meiosis and its dependence on eukaryote cell biology suggest that the emergence of sex and eukaryogenesis were simultaneous and synergic and may be explained by a common selective pressure.
Presentation of the hypothesis
We propose that a local rise in oxygen levels, due to cyanobacterial photosynthesis in ancient Archean microenvironments, was highly toxic to the surrounding biota. This selective pressure drove the transformation of an archaeal (archaebacterial) lineage into the first eukaryotes. Key is that oxygen might have acted in synergy with environmental stresses such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation and/or desiccation that resulted in the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The emergence of eukaryote features such as the endomembrane system and acquisition of the mitochondrion are posited as strategies to cope with a metabolic crisis in the cell plasma membrane and the accumulation of ROS, respectively. Selective pressure for efficient repair of ROS/UV-damaged DNA drove the evolution of sex, which required cell-cell fusions, cytoskeleton-mediated chromosome movement, and emergence of the nuclear envelope. Our model implies that evolution of sex and eukaryogenesis were inseparable processes.
Testing the hypothesis
Several types of data can be used to test our hypothesis. These include paleontological predictions, simulation of ancient oxygenic microenvironments, and cell biological experiments with Archaea exposed to ROS and UV stresses. Studies of archaeal conjugation, prokaryotic DNA recombination, and the universality of nuclear-mediated meiotic activities might corroborate the hypothesis that sex and the nucleus evolved to support DNA repair.
Implications of the hypothesis
Oxygen tolerance emerges as an important principle to investigate eukaryogenesis. The evolution of eukaryotic complexity might be best understood as a synergic process between key evolutionary innovations, of which meiosis (sex) played a central role.
This manuscript was reviewed by Eugene V. Koonin, Anthony M. Poole, and Gáspár Jékely.
PMCID: PMC2933680  PMID: 20731852
6.  Do prokaryotes contain microtubules? 
Microbiological Reviews  1994;58(3):387-400.
In eukaryotic cells, microtubules are 24-nm-diameter tubular structures composed of a class of conserved proteins called tubulin. They are involved in numerous cell functions including ciliary motility, nerve cell elongation, pigment migration, centrosome formation, and chromosome movement. Although cytoplasmic tubules and fibers have been observed in bacteria, some with diameters similar to those of eukaryotes, no homologies to eukaryotic microtubules have been established. Certain groups of bacteria including azotobacters, cyanobacteria, enteric bacteria, and spirochetes have been frequently observed to possess microtubule-like structures, and others, including archaebacteria, have been shown to be sensitive to drugs that inhibit the polymerization of microtubules. Although little biochemical or molecular biological information is available, the differences observed among these prokaryotic structures suggest that their composition generally differs among themselves as well as from that of eukaryotes. We review the distribution of cytoplasmic tubules in prokaryotes, even though, in all cases, their functions remain unknown. At least some tend to occur in cells that are large, elongate, and motile, suggesting that they may be involved in cytoskeletal functions, intracellular motility, or transport activities comparable to those performed by eukaryotic microtubules. In Escherichia coli, the FtsZ protein is associated with the formation of a ring in the division zone between the newly forming offspring cells. Like tubulin, FtsZ is a GTPase and shares with tubulin a 7-amino-acid motif, making it a promising candidate in which to seek the origin of tubulins.
PMCID: PMC372974  PMID: 7968920
7.  Origin of the cell nucleus, mitosis and sex: roles of intracellular coevolution 
Biology Direct  2010;5:7.
The transition from prokaryotes to eukaryotes was the most radical change in cell organisation since life began, with the largest ever burst of gene duplication and novelty. According to the coevolutionary theory of eukaryote origins, the fundamental innovations were the concerted origins of the endomembrane system and cytoskeleton, subsequently recruited to form the cell nucleus and coevolving mitotic apparatus, with numerous genetic eukaryotic novelties inevitable consequences of this compartmentation and novel DNA segregation mechanism. Physical and mutational mechanisms of origin of the nucleus are seldom considered beyond the long-standing assumption that it involved wrapping pre-existing endomembranes around chromatin. Discussions on the origin of sex typically overlook its association with protozoan entry into dormant walled cysts and the likely simultaneous coevolutionary, not sequential, origin of mitosis and meiosis.
I elucidate nuclear and mitotic coevolution, explaining the origins of dicer and small centromeric RNAs for positionally controlling centromeric heterochromatin, and how 27 major features of the cell nucleus evolved in four logical stages, making both mechanisms and selective advantages explicit: two initial stages (origin of 30 nm chromatin fibres, enabling DNA compaction; and firmer attachment of endomembranes to heterochromatin) protected DNA and nascent RNA from shearing by novel molecular motors mediating vesicle transport, division, and cytoplasmic motility. Then octagonal nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) arguably evolved from COPII coated vesicle proteins trapped in clumps by Ran GTPase-mediated cisternal fusion that generated the fenestrated nuclear envelope, preventing lethal complete cisternal fusion, and allowing passive protein and RNA exchange. Finally, plugging NPC lumens by an FG-nucleoporin meshwork and adopting karyopherins for nucleocytoplasmic exchange conferred compartmentation advantages. These successive changes took place in naked growing cells, probably as indirect consequences of the origin of phagotrophy. The first eukaryote had 1-2 cilia and also walled resting cysts; I outline how encystation may have promoted the origin of meiotic sex. I also explain why many alternative ideas are inadequate.
Nuclear pore complexes are evolutionary chimaeras of endomembrane- and mitosis-related chromatin-associated proteins. The keys to understanding eukaryogenesis are a proper phylogenetic context and understanding organelle coevolution: how innovations in one cell component caused repercussions on others.
This article was reviewed by Anthony Poole, Gáspár Jékely and Eugene Koonin.
PMCID: PMC2837639  PMID: 20132544
8.  The origin of a derived superkingdom: how a gram-positive bacterium crossed the desert to become an archaeon 
Biology Direct  2011;6:16.
The tree of life is usually rooted between archaea and bacteria. We have previously presented three arguments that support placing the root of the tree of life in bacteria. The data have been dismissed because those who support the canonical rooting between the prokaryotic superkingdoms cannot imagine how the vast divide between the prokaryotic superkingdoms could be crossed.
We review the evidence that archaea are derived, as well as their biggest differences with bacteria. We argue that using novel data the gap between the superkingdoms is not insurmountable. We consider whether archaea are holophyletic or paraphyletic; essential to understanding their origin. Finally, we review several hypotheses on the origins of archaea and, where possible, evaluate each hypothesis using bioinformatics tools. As a result we argue for a firmicute ancestry for archaea over proposals for an actinobacterial ancestry.
We believe a synthesis of the hypotheses of Lake, Gupta, and Cavalier-Smith is possible where a combination of antibiotic warfare and viral endosymbiosis in the bacilli led to dramatic changes in a bacterium that resulted in the birth of archaea and eukaryotes.
This article was reviewed by Patrick Forterre, Eugene Koonin, and Gáspár Jékely
PMCID: PMC3056875  PMID: 21356104
9.  Split decision: A thaumarchaeon encoding both FtsZ and Cdv cell division proteins chooses Cdv for cytokinesis 
Molecular Microbiology  2011;82(3):535-538.
Cytoskeletal proteins play a pivotal role in cytokinesis in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Most bacteria and a major branch of the archaea called the Euryarchaeota harbor a tubulin homolog, FtsZ, which assembles into a dynamic polymeric ring structure required for cytokinesis. However, Crenarchaeota, another branch of the archaea, lack FtsZ and instead use Cdv proteins, which are homologs of the ESCRT-III-like system involved in vesicular sorting and cytokinesis in eukaryotes, for cell division. Recently, a group of Crenarchaeota that grow in non-extreme environments was found to be sufficiently divergent to warrant its own branch of the archaea called the Thaumarchaeota. Notably, Thaumarchaeota have both Cdv and FtsZ homologs, which begs the question of which system is used for cell division. In this issue of Molecular Microbiology, Pelve and colleagues tackle this question. They found that cells of the thaumarchaeon Nitrosopumilus maritimus likely divide using the Cdv system and not FtsZ, based on localization of Cdv proteins but not FtsZ to division sites. The authors also provide evidence that the cell cycle during growth of N. maritimus differs significantly from those of other archaea.
PMCID: PMC3298680  PMID: 21895799
10.  Microtubules in Bacteria: Ancient Tubulins Build a Five-Protofilament Homolog of the Eukaryotic Cytoskeleton 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(12):e1001213.
The unequivocal identification of microtubules in bacteria throws light on the evolution of modern eukaryotic microtubules from a primordial structure.
Microtubules play crucial roles in cytokinesis, transport, and motility, and are therefore superb targets for anti-cancer drugs. All tubulins evolved from a common ancestor they share with the distantly related bacterial cell division protein FtsZ, but while eukaryotic tubulins evolved into highly conserved microtubule-forming heterodimers, bacterial FtsZ presumably continued to function as single homopolymeric protofilaments as it does today. Microtubules have not previously been found in bacteria, and we lack insight into their evolution from the tubulin/FtsZ ancestor. Using electron cryomicroscopy, here we show that the tubulin homologs BtubA and BtubB form microtubules in bacteria and suggest these be referred to as “bacterial microtubules” (bMTs). bMTs share important features with their eukaryotic counterparts, such as straight protofilaments and similar protofilament interactions. bMTs are composed of only five protofilaments, however, instead of the 13 typical in eukaryotes. These and other results suggest that rather than being derived from modern eukaryotic tubulin, BtubA and BtubB arose from early tubulin intermediates that formed small microtubules. Since we show that bacterial microtubules can be produced in abundance in vitro without chaperones, they should be useful tools for tubulin research and drug screening.
Author Summary
Bacteria are generally distinguished from the cells of fungi, plants, and animals (eukaryotes) not only by their much smaller size but also by the absence of certain subcellular structures such as nuclei, internal organelles, and microtubules. Using state-of-the-art microscopy, we demonstrate here that microtubules do exist in some bacteria. These bacterial microtubules are built from proteins that are closely related to the microtubule proteins in eukaryotes. Bacterial microtubules are smaller in diameter than their counterparts in eukaryotic cells but have the same basic architecture. We propose that bacterial microtubules represent primordial structures that preceded eukaryotic microtubules evolutionarily. Because bacterial microtubules can be produced and handled in the lab more easily than their eukaryotic counterparts, they may become useful tools for microtubule research and anti-cancer drug screening.
PMCID: PMC3232192  PMID: 22162949
11.  The ancient Virus World and evolution of cells 
Biology Direct  2006;1:29.
Recent advances in genomics of viruses and cellular life forms have greatly stimulated interest in the origins and evolution of viruses and, for the first time, offer an opportunity for a data-driven exploration of the deepest roots of viruses. Here we briefly review the current views of virus evolution and propose a new, coherent scenario that appears to be best compatible with comparative-genomic data and is naturally linked to models of cellular evolution that, from independent considerations, seem to be the most parsimonious among the existing ones.
Several genes coding for key proteins involved in viral replication and morphogenesis as well as the major capsid protein of icosahedral virions are shared by many groups of RNA and DNA viruses but are missing in cellular life forms. On the basis of this key observation and the data on extensive genetic exchange between diverse viruses, we propose the concept of the ancient virus world. The virus world is construed as a distinct contingent of viral genes that continuously retained its identity throughout the entire history of life. Under this concept, the principal lineages of viruses and related selfish agents emerged from the primordial pool of primitive genetic elements, the ancestors of both cellular and viral genes. Thus, notwithstanding the numerous gene exchanges and acquisitions attributed to later stages of evolution, most, if not all, modern viruses and other selfish agents are inferred to descend from elements that belonged to the primordial genetic pool. In this pool, RNA viruses would evolve first, followed by retroid elements, and DNA viruses. The Virus World concept is predicated on a model of early evolution whereby emergence of substantial genetic diversity antedates the advent of full-fledged cells, allowing for extensive gene mixing at this early stage of evolution. We outline a scenario of the origin of the main classes of viruses in conjunction with a specific model of precellular evolution under which the primordial gene pool dwelled in a network of inorganic compartments. Somewhat paradoxically, under this scenario, we surmise that selfish genetic elements ancestral to viruses evolved prior to typical cells, to become intracellular parasites once bacteria and archaea arrived at the scene. Selection against excessively aggressive parasites that would kill off the host ensembles of genetic elements would lead to early evolution of temperate virus-like agents and primitive defense mechanisms, possibly, based on the RNA interference principle. The emergence of the eukaryotic cell is construed as the second melting pot of virus evolution from which the major groups of eukaryotic viruses originated as a result of extensive recombination of genes from various bacteriophages, archaeal viruses, plasmids, and the evolving eukaryotic genomes. Again, this vision is predicated on a specific model of the emergence of eukaryotic cell under which archaeo-bacterial symbiosis was the starting point of eukaryogenesis, a scenario that appears to be best compatible with the data.
The existence of several genes that are central to virus replication and structure, are shared by a broad variety of viruses but are missing from cellular genomes (virus hallmark genes) suggests the model of an ancient virus world, a flow of virus-specific genes that went uninterrupted from the precellular stage of life's evolution to this day. This concept is tightly linked to two key conjectures on evolution of cells: existence of a complex, precellular, compartmentalized but extensively mixing and recombining pool of genes, and origin of the eukaryotic cell by archaeo-bacterial fusion. The virus world concept and these models of major transitions in the evolution of cells provide complementary pieces of an emerging coherent picture of life's history.
W. Ford Doolittle, J. Peter Gogarten, and Arcady Mushegian.
PMCID: PMC1594570  PMID: 16984643
12.  Conserved intron positions in ancient protein modules 
Biology Direct  2007;2:7.
The timing of the origin of introns is of crucial importance for an understanding of early genome architecture. The Exon theory of genes proposed a role for introns in the formation of multi-exon proteins by exon shuffling and predicts the presence of conserved splice sites in ancient genes. In this study, large-scale analysis of potential conserved splice sites was performed using an intron-exon database (ExInt) derived from GenBank.
A set of conserved intron positions was found by matching identical splice sites sequences from distantly-related eukaryotic kingdoms. Most amino acid sequences with conserved introns were homologous to consensus sequences of functional domains from conserved proteins including kinases, phosphatases, small GTPases, transporters and matrix proteins. These included ancient proteins that originated before the eukaryote-prokaryote split, for instance the catalytic domain of protein phosphatase 2A where a total of eleven conserved introns were found. Using an experimental setup in which the relation between a splice site and the ancientness of its surrounding sequence could be studied, it was found that the presence of an intron was positively correlated to the ancientness of its surrounding sequence. Intron phase conservation was linked to the conservation of the gene sequence and not to the splice site sequence itself. However, no apparent differences in phase distribution were found between introns in conserved versus non-conserved sequences.
The data confirm an origin of introns deep in the eukaryotic branch and is in concordance with the presence of introns in the first functional protein modules in an 'Exon theory of genes' scenario. A model is proposed in which shuffling of primordial short exonic sequences led to the formation of the first functional protein modules, in line with hypotheses that see the formation of introns integral to the origins of genome evolution.
This article was reviewed by Scott Roy (nominated by Anthony Poole), Sandro de Souza (nominated by Manyuan Long), and Gáspár Jékely.
PMCID: PMC1800838  PMID: 17288589
13.  Rationalization of paclitaxel insensitivity of yeast β-tubulin and human βIII-tubulin isotype using principal component analysis 
BMC Research Notes  2012;5:395.
The chemotherapeutic agent paclitaxel arrests cell division by binding to the hetero-dimeric protein tubulin. Subtle differences in tubulin sequences, across eukaryotes and among β-tubulin isotypes, can have profound impact on paclitaxel-tubulin binding. To capture the experimentally observed paclitaxel-resistance of human βIII tubulin isotype and yeast β-tubulin, within a common theoretical framework, we have performed structural principal component analyses of β-tubulin sequences across eukaryotes.
The paclitaxel-resistance of human βIII tubulin isotype and yeast β-tubulin uniquely mapped on to the lowest two principal components, defining the paclitaxel-binding site residues of β-tubulin. The molecular mechanisms behind paclitaxel-resistance, mediated through key residues, were identified from structural consequences of characteristic mutations that confer paclitaxel-resistance. Specifically, Ala277 in βIII isotype was shown to be crucial for paclitaxel-resistance.
The present analysis captures the origin of two apparently unrelated events, paclitaxel-insensitivity of yeast tubulin and human βIII tubulin isotype, through two common collective sequence vectors.
PMCID: PMC3477043  PMID: 22849332
14.  The origins of phagocytosis and eukaryogenesis 
Biology Direct  2009;4:9.
Phagocytosis, that is, engulfment of large particles by eukaryotic cells, is found in diverse organisms and is often thought to be central to the very origin of the eukaryotic cell, in particular, for the acquisition of bacterial endosymbionts including the ancestor of the mitochondrion.
Comparisons of the sets of proteins implicated in phagocytosis in different eukaryotes reveal extreme diversity, with very few highly conserved components that typically do not possess readily identifiable prokaryotic homologs. Nevertheless, phylogenetic analysis of those proteins for which such homologs do exist yields clues to the possible origin of phagocytosis. The central finding is that a subset of archaea encode actins that are not only monophyletic with eukaryotic actins but also share unique structural features with actin-related proteins (Arp) 2 and 3. All phagocytic processes are strictly dependent on remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton and the formation of branched filaments for which Arp2/3 are responsible. The presence of common structural features in Arp2/3 and the archaeal actins suggests that the common ancestors of the archaeal and eukaryotic actins were capable of forming branched filaments, like modern Arp2/3. The Rho family GTPases that are ubiquitous regulators of phagocytosis in eukaryotes appear to be of bacterial origin, so assuming that the host of the mitochondrial endosymbiont was an archaeon, the genes for these GTPases come via horizontal gene transfer from the endosymbiont or in an earlier event.
The present findings suggest a hypothetical scenario of eukaryogenesis under which the archaeal ancestor of eukaryotes had no cell wall (like modern Thermoplasma) but had an actin-based cytoskeleton including branched actin filaments that allowed this organism to produce actin-supported membrane protrusions. These protrusions would facilitate accidental, occasional engulfment of bacteria, one of which eventually became the mitochondrion. The acquisition of the endosymbiont triggered eukaryogenesis, in particular, the emergence of the endomembrane system that eventually led to the evolution of modern-type phagocytosis, independently in several eukaryotic lineages.
This article was reviewed by Simonetta Gribaldo, Gaspar Jekely, and Pierre Pontarotti. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' Reports section.
PMCID: PMC2651865  PMID: 19245710
15.  The Nitrosopumilus maritimus CdvB, but Not FtsZ, Assembles into Polymers 
Archaea  2013;2013:104147.
Euryarchaeota and Crenarchaeota are two major phyla of archaea which use distinct molecular apparatuses for cell division. Euryarchaea make use of the tubulin-related protein FtsZ, while Crenarchaea, which appear to lack functional FtsZ, employ the Cdv (cell division) components to divide. Ammonia oxidizing archaeon (AOA) Nitrosopumilus maritimus belongs to another archaeal phylum, the Thaumarchaeota, which has both FtsZ and Cdv genes in the genome. Here, we used a heterologous expression system to characterize FtsZ and Cdv proteins from N. maritimus by investigating the ability of these proteins to form polymers. We show that one of the Cdv proteins in N. maritimus, the CdvB (Nmar_0816), is capable of forming stable polymers when expressed in fission yeast. The N. maritimus CdvB is also capable of assembling into filaments in mammalian cells. However, N. maritimus FtsZ does not assemble into polymers in our system. The ability of CdvB, but not FtsZ, to polymerize is consistent with a recent finding showing that several Cdv proteins, but not FtsZ, localize to the mid-cell site in the dividing N. maritimus. Thus, we propose that it is Cdv proteins, rather than FtsZ, that function as the cell division apparatus in N. maritimus.
PMCID: PMC3684127  PMID: 23818813
16.  Evolution of DNA polymerases: an inactivated polymerase-exonuclease module in Pol ε and a chimeric origin of eukaryotic polymerases from two classes of archaeal ancestors 
Biology Direct  2009;4:11.
Evolution of DNA polymerases, the key enzymes of DNA replication and repair, is central to any reconstruction of the history of cellular life. However, the details of the evolutionary relationships between DNA polymerases of archaea and eukaryotes remain unresolved.
We performed a comparative analysis of archaeal, eukaryotic, and bacterial B-family DNA polymerases, which are the main replicative polymerases in archaea and eukaryotes, combined with an analysis of domain architectures. Surprisingly, we found that eukaryotic Polymerase ε consists of two tandem exonuclease-polymerase modules, the active N-terminal module and a C-terminal module in which both enzymatic domains are inactivated. The two modules are only distantly related to each other, an observation that suggests the possibility that Pol ε evolved as a result of insertion and subsequent inactivation of a distinct polymerase, possibly, of bacterial descent, upstream of the C-terminal Zn-fingers, rather than by tandem duplication. The presence of an inactivated exonuclease-polymerase module in Pol ε parallels a similar inactivation of both enzymatic domains in a distinct family of archaeal B-family polymerases. The results of phylogenetic analysis indicate that eukaryotic B-family polymerases, most likely, originate from two distantly related archaeal B-family polymerases, one form giving rise to Pol ε, and the other one to the common ancestor of Pol α, Pol δ, and Pol ζ. The C-terminal Zn-fingers that are present in all eukaryotic B-family polymerases, unexpectedly, are homologous to the Zn-finger of archaeal D-family DNA polymerases that are otherwise unrelated to the B family. The Zn-finger of Polε shows a markedly greater similarity to the counterpart in archaeal PolD than the Zn-fingers of other eukaryotic B-family polymerases.
Evolution of eukaryotic DNA polymerases seems to have involved previously unnoticed complex events. We hypothesize that the archaeal ancestor of eukaryotes encoded three DNA polymerases, namely, two distinct B-family polymerases and a D-family polymerase all of which contributed to the evolution of the eukaryotic replication machinery. The Zn-finger might have been acquired from PolD by the B-family form that gave rise to Pol ε prior to or in the course of eukaryogenesis, and subsequently, was captured by the ancestor of the other B-family eukaryotic polymerases. The inactivated polymerase-exonuclease module of Pol ε might have evolved by fusion with a distinct polymerase, rather than by duplication of the active module of Pol ε, and is likely to play an important role in the assembly of eukaryotic replication and repair complexes.
This article was reviewed by Patrick Forterre, Arcady Mushegian, and Chris Ponting. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' Reports section.
PMCID: PMC2669801  PMID: 19296856
17.  Comparison of Small Molecule Inhibitors of the Bacterial Cell Division Protein FtsZ and Identification of a Reliable Cross-Species Inhibitor 
ACS chemical biology  2012;7(11):1918-1928.
FtsZ is a guanosine triphosphatase (GTPase) that mediates cytokinesis in bacteria. FtsZ is homologous in structure to eukaryotic tubulin and polymerizes in a similar head-to-tail fashion. The study of tubulin’s function in eukaryotic cells has benefited greatly from specific and potent small molecule inhibitors, including colchicine and taxol. Although many small molecule inhibitors of FtsZ have been reported, none has emerged as a generally useful probe for modulating bacterial cell division. With the goal of establishing a useful and reliable small molecule inhibitor of FtsZ, a broad biochemical cross-comparison of reported FtsZ inhibitors was undertaken. Several of these molecules, including phenolic natural products, are unselective inhibitors that seem to derive their activity from the formation of microscopic colloids or aggregates. Other compounds, including the natural product viriditoxin and the drug development candidate PC190723, exhibit no inhibition of GTPase activity using protocols in this work or under published conditions. Of the compounds studied, only zantrin Z3 exhibits good levels of inhibition, maintains activity under conditions that disrupt small molecule aggregates, and provides a platform for exploration of structure-activity relationships (SAR). Preliminary SAR studies have identified slight modifications to the two sidechains of this structure that modulate the inhibitory activity of zantrin Z3. Collectively these studies will help focus future investigations toward the establishment of probes for FtsZ that fill the roles of colchicine and taxol in studies of tubulin.
PMCID: PMC3514448  PMID: 22958099
18.  Did DNA replication evolve twice independently? 
Nucleic Acids Research  1999;27(17):3389-3401.
DNA replication is central to all extant cellular organisms. There are substantial functional similarities between the bacterial and the archaeal/eukaryotic replication machineries, including but not limited to defined origins, replication bidirectionality, RNA primers and leading and lagging strand synthesis. However, several core components of the bacterial replication machinery are unrelated or only distantly related to the functionally equivalent components of the archaeal/eukaryotic replication apparatus. This is in sharp contrast to the principal proteins involved in transcription and translation, which are highly conserved in all divisions of life. We performed detailed sequence comparisons of the proteins that fulfill indispensable functions in DNA replication and classified them into four main categories with respect to the conservation in bacteria and archaea/eukaryotes: (i) non-homologous, such as replicative polymerases and primases; (ii) containing homologous domains but apparently non-orthologous and conceivably independently recruited to function in replication, such as the principal replicative helicases or proofreading exonucleases; (iii) apparently orthologous but poorly conserved, such as the sliding clamp proteins or DNA ligases; (iv) orthologous and highly conserved, such as clamp-loader ATPases or 5'-->3' exonucleases (FLAP nucleases). The universal conservation of some components of the DNA replication machinery and enzymes for DNA precursor biosynthesis but not the principal DNA polymerases suggests that the last common ancestor (LCA) of all modern cellular life forms possessed DNA but did not replicate it the way extant cells do. We propose that the LCA had a genetic system that contained both RNA and DNA, with the latter being produced by reverse transcription. Consequently, the modern-type system for double-stranded DNA replication likely evolved independently in the bacterial and archaeal/eukaryotic lineages.
PMCID: PMC148579  PMID: 10446225
19.  Evolution of replicative DNA polymerases in archaea and their contributions to the eukaryotic replication machinery 
The elaborate eukaryotic DNA replication machinery evolved from the archaeal ancestors that themselves show considerable complexity. Here we discuss the comparative genomic and phylogenetic analysis of the core replication enzymes, the DNA polymerases, in archaea and their relationships with the eukaryotic polymerases. In archaea, there are three groups of family B DNA polymerases, historically known as PolB1, PolB2 and PolB3. All three groups appear to descend from the last common ancestors of the extant archaea but their subsequent evolutionary trajectories seem to have been widely different. Although PolB3 is present in all archaea, with the exception of Thaumarchaeota, and appears to be directly involved in lagging strand replication, the evolution of this gene does not follow the archaeal phylogeny, conceivably due to multiple horizontal transfers and/or dramatic differences in evolutionary rates. In contrast, PolB1 is missing in Euryarchaeota but otherwise seems to have evolved vertically. The third archaeal group of family B polymerases, PolB2, includes primarily proteins in which the catalytic centers of the polymerase and exonuclease domains are disrupted and accordingly the enzymes appear to be inactivated. The members of the PolB2 group are scattered across archaea and might be involved in repair or regulation of replication along with inactivated members of the RadA family ATPases and an additional, uncharacterized protein that are encoded within the same predicted operon. In addition to the family B polymerases, all archaea, with the exception of the Crenarchaeota, encode enzymes of a distinct family D the origin of which is unclear. We examine multiple considerations that appear compatible with the possibility that family D polymerases are highly derived homologs of family B. The eukaryotic DNA polymerases show a highly complex relationship with their archaeal ancestors including contributions of proteins and domains from both the family B and the family D archaeal polymerases.
PMCID: PMC4104785  PMID: 25101062
DNA replication; archaea; mobile genetic elements; DNA polymerases; enzyme inactivation
20.  A congruent phylogenomic signal places eukaryotes within the Archaea 
Determining the relationships among the major groups of cellular life is important for understanding the evolution of biological diversity, but is difficult given the enormous time spans involved. In the textbook ‘three domains’ tree based on informational genes, eukaryotes and Archaea share a common ancestor to the exclusion of Bacteria. However, some phylogenetic analyses of the same data have placed eukaryotes within the Archaea, as the nearest relatives of different archaeal lineages. We compared the support for these competing hypotheses using sophisticated phylogenetic methods and an improved sampling of archaeal biodiversity. We also employed both new and existing tests of phylogenetic congruence to explore the level of uncertainty and conflict in the data. Our analyses suggested that much of the observed incongruence is weakly supported or associated with poorly fitting evolutionary models. All of our phylogenetic analyses, whether on small subunit and large subunit ribosomal RNA or concatenated protein-coding genes, recovered a monophyletic group containing eukaryotes and the TACK archaeal superphylum comprising the Thaumarchaeota, Aigarchaeota, Crenarchaeota and Korarchaeota. Hence, while our results provide no support for the iconic three-domain tree of life, they are consistent with an extended eocyte hypothesis whereby vital components of the eukaryotic nuclear lineage originated from within the archaeal radiation.
PMCID: PMC3497233  PMID: 23097517
phylogenetics; eukaryotes; evolution; tree of life
21.  Glutamate 83 and arginine 85 of helix H3 bend are key residues for FtsZ polymerization, GTPase activity and cellular viability of Escherichia coli: lateral mutations affect FtsZ polymerization and E. coli viability 
BMC Microbiology  2013;13:26.
FtsZ is an essential cell division protein, which localizes at the middle of the bacterial cell to mediate cytokinesis. In vitro, FtsZ polymerizes and induces GTPase activity through longitudinal interactions to form the protofilaments, whilst lateral interactions result within formation of bundles. The interactions that participate in the protofilaments are similar to its eukaryotic homologue tubulin and are well characterized; however, lateral interactions between the inter protofilaments are less defined. FtsZ forms double protofilaments in vitro, though the key elements on the interface of the inter-protofilaments remain unclear as well as the structures involved in the lateral interactions in vivo and in vitro. In this study, we demonstrate that the highly conserved negative charge of glutamate 83 and the positive charge of arginine 85 located in the helix H3 bend of FtsZ are required for in vitro FtsZ lateral and longitudinal interactions, respectively and for in vivo cell division.
The effect of mutation on the widely conserved glutamate-83 and arginine-85 residues located in the helix H3 (present in most of the tubulin family) was evaluated by in vitro and in situ experiments. The morphology of the cells expressing Escherichia coli FtsZ (E83Q) mutant at 42°C formed filamented cells while those expressing FtsZ(R85Q) formed shorter filamented cells. In situ immunofluorescence experiments showed that the FtsZ(E83Q) mutant formed rings within the filamented cells whereas those formed by the FtsZ(R85Q) mutant were less defined. The expression of the mutant proteins diminished cell viability as follows: wild type > E83Q > R85Q. In vitro, both, R85Q and E83Q reduced the rate of FtsZ polymerization (WT > E83Q >> R85Q) and GTPase activity (WT > E83Q >> R85Q). R85Q protein polymerized into shorter filaments compared to WT and E83Q, with a GTPase lag period that was inversely proportional to the protein concentration. In the presence of ZipA, R85Q GTPase activity increased two fold, but no bundles were formed suggesting that lateral interactions were affected.
We found that glutamate 83 and arginine 85 located in the bend of helix H3 at the lateral face are required for the protofilament lateral interaction and also affects the inter-protofilament lateral interactions that ultimately play a role in the functional localization of the FtsZ ring at the cell division site.
PMCID: PMC3626584  PMID: 23384248
Bacterial division; FtsZ polymerization; Longitudinal/lateral interactions; ZipA
22.  Functional analysis of archaeal MBF1 by complementation studies in yeast 
Biology Direct  2011;6:18.
Multiprotein-bridging factor 1 (MBF1) is a transcriptional co-activator that bridges a sequence-specific activator (basic-leucine zipper (bZIP) like proteins (e.g. Gcn4 in yeast) or steroid/nuclear-hormone receptor family (e.g. FTZ-F1 in insect)) and the TATA-box binding protein (TBP) in Eukaryotes. MBF1 is absent in Bacteria, but is well- conserved in Eukaryotes and Archaea and harbors a C-terminal Cro-like Helix Turn Helix (HTH) domain, which is the only highly conserved, classical HTH domain that is vertically inherited in all Eukaryotes and Archaea. The main structural difference between archaeal MBF1 (aMBF1) and eukaryotic MBF1 is the presence of a Zn ribbon motif in aMBF1. In addition MBF1 interacting activators are absent in the archaeal domain. To study the function and therefore the evolutionary conservation of MBF1 and its single domains complementation studies in yeast (mbf1Δ) as well as domain swap experiments between aMBF1 and yMbf1 were performed.
In contrast to previous reports for eukaryotic MBF1 (i.e. Arabidopsis thaliana, insect and human) the two archaeal MBF1 orthologs, TMBF1 from the hyperthermophile Thermoproteus tenax and MMBF1 from the mesophile Methanosarcina mazei were not functional for complementation of an Saccharomyces cerevisiae mutant lacking Mbf1 (mbf1Δ). Of twelve chimeric proteins representing different combinations of the N-terminal, core domain, and the C-terminal extension from yeast and aMBF1, only the chimeric MBF1 comprising the yeast N-terminal and core domain fused to the archaeal C-terminal part was able to restore full wild-type activity of MBF1.
However, as reported previously for Bombyx mori, the C-terminal part of yeast Mbf1 was shown to be not essential for function. In addition phylogenetic analyses revealed a common distribution of MBF1 in all Archaea with available genome sequence, except of two of the three Thaumarchaeota; Cenarchaeum symbiosum A and Nitrosopumilus maritimus SCM1.
The absence of MBF1-interacting activators in the archaeal domain, the presence of a Zn ribbon motif in the divergent N-terminal domain of aMBF1 and the complementation experiments using archaeal- yeast chimeric proteins presented here suggests that archaeal MBF1 is not able to functionally interact with the transcription machinery and/or Gcn4 of S. cerevisiae. Based on modeling and structural prediction it is tempting to speculate that aMBF1 might act as a single regulator or non-essential transcription factor, which directly interacts with DNA via the positive charged linker or the basal transcription machinery via its Zn ribbon motif and the HTH domain. However, also alternative functions in ribosome biosynthesis and/or functionality have been discussed and therefore further experiments are required to unravel the function of MBF1 in Archaea.
This article was reviewed by William Martin, Patrick Forterre, John van der Oost and Fabian Blombach (nominated by Eugene V Koonin (United States)). For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewer's Reports section.
PMCID: PMC3062615  PMID: 21392374
23.  The role of dynamic instability in microtubule organization 
Microtubules are one of the three major cytoskeletal components in eukaryotic cells. Heterodimers composed of GTP-bound α- and β-tubulin molecules polymerize to form microtubule protofilaments, which associate laterally to form a hollow microtubule. Tubulin has GTPase activity and the GTP molecules associated with β-tubulin molecules are hydrolyzed shortly after being incorporated into the polymerizing microtubules. GTP hydrolysis alters the conformation of the tubulin molecules and drives the dynamic behavior of microtubules. Periods of rapid microtubule polymerization alternate with periods of shrinkage in a process known as dynamic instability. In plants, dynamic instability plays a key role in determining the organization of microtubules into arrays, and these arrays vary throughout the cell cycle. In this review, we describe the mechanisms that regulate microtubule dynamics and underlie dynamic instability, and discuss how dynamic instability may shape microtubule organization in plant cells.
PMCID: PMC4188131  PMID: 25339962
cortical array; dynamic instability; GTP hydrolysis; microtubule; phragmoplast; tubulin
24.  Cell division and the ESCRT complex 
The Archaea constitute the third domain of life, a separate evolutionary lineage together with the Bacteria and the Eukarya.1 Species belonging to the Archaea contain a surprising mix of bacterial (metabolism, life style, genomic organization) and eukaryotic (replication, transcription, translation) features.2 The archaeal kingdom comprises two main phyla, the Crenarchaeota and the Euryarchaeota. Regarding the cell division process in archaeal species (reviewed in ref. 3), members of the Euryarchaeota rely on an FtsZ-based cell division mechanism4 whereas, previously, no division genes had been detected in the crenarchaea. However, we recently reported the discovery of the elusive cell division machinery in crenarchaea from the genus Sulfolobus.5 The minimal machinery consists of three genes, which we designated cdvA, B and C (for cell division), organized into an operon that is widely conserved among crenarchaea. The gene products polymerize between segregating nucleoids at the early mitotic stage, forming a complex that remains associated with the leading edge of constriction throughout cytokinesis. Interestingly, CdvB and CdvC were shown to be related to the eukaryotic ESCRT-III protein sorting machinery (reviewed in ref. 6), indicating shared common ancestry and mechanistic similarities to endosomal vesicle formation and viral (HIV) budding in eukaryotes. We also demonstrated that the cdv operon is subject to checkpoint-like regulation, and that the genes display a complementary phylogenetic distribution within the Archaea domain relative to FtsZ-dependent division systems.5 Here, the findings are further explored and discussed, and topics for further investigation are suggested.
PMCID: PMC2686351  PMID: 19704896
Archaea; cell cycle; cell division; cytokinesis; ESCRT; HIV; Sulfolobus; vesicle formation; virion release
25.  Tubulin evolution in insects: gene duplication and subfunctionalization provide specialized isoforms in a functionally constrained gene family 
The completion of 19 insect genome sequencing projects spanning six insect orders provides the opportunity to investigate the evolution of important gene families, here tubulins. Tubulins are a family of eukaryotic structural genes that form microtubules, fundamental components of the cytoskeleton that mediate cell division, shape, motility, and intracellular trafficking. Previous in vivo studies in Drosophila find a stringent relationship between tubulin structure and function; small, biochemically similar changes in the major alpha 1 or testis-specific beta 2 tubulin protein render each unable to generate a motile spermtail axoneme. This has evolutionary implications, not a single non-synonymous substitution is found in beta 2 among 17 species of Drosophila and Hirtodrosophila flies spanning 60 Myr of evolution. This raises an important question, How do tubulins evolve while maintaining their function? To answer, we use molecular evolutionary analyses to characterize the evolution of insect tubulins.
Sixty-six alpha tubulins and eighty-six beta tubulin gene copies were retrieved and subjected to molecular evolutionary analyses. Four ancient clades of alpha and beta tubulins are found in insects, a major isoform clade (alpha 1, beta 1) and three minor, tissue-specific clades (alpha 2-4, beta 2-4). Based on a Homarus americanus (lobster) outgroup, these were generated through gene duplication events on major beta and alpha tubulin ancestors, followed by subfunctionalization in expression domain. Strong purifying selection acts on all tubulins, yet maximum pairwise amino acid distances between tubulin paralogs are large (0.464 substitutions/site beta tubulins, 0.707 alpha tubulins). Conversely orthologs, with the exception of reproductive tissue isoforms, show little sequence variation except in the last 15 carboxy terminus tail (CTT) residues, which serve as sites for post-translational modifications (PTMs) and interactions with microtubule-associated proteins. CTT residues overwhelming comprise the co-evolving residues between Drosophila alpha 2 and beta 3 tubulin proteins, indicating CTT specializations can be mediated at the level of the tubulin dimer. Gene duplications post-dating separation of the insect orders are unevenly distributed, most often appearing in major alpha 1 and minor beta 2 clades. More than 40 introns are found in tubulins. Their distribution among tubulins reveals that insertion and deletion events are common, surprising given their potential for disrupting tubulin coding sequence. Compensatory evolution is found in Drosophila beta 2 tubulin cis-regulation, and reveals selective pressures acting to maintain testis expression without the use of previously identified testis cis-regulatory elements.
Tubulins have stringent structure/function relationships, indicated by strong purifying selection, the loss of many gene duplication products, alpha-beta co-evolution in the tubulin dimer, and compensatory evolution in beta 2 tubulin cis-regulation. They evolve through gene duplication, subfunctionalization in expression domain and divergence of duplication products, largely in CTT residues that mediate interactions with other proteins. This has resulted in the tissue-specific minor insect isoforms, and in particular the highly diverse α3, α4, and β2 reproductive tissue-specific tubulin isoforms, illustrating that even a highly conserved protein family can participate in the adaptive process and respond to sexual selection.
PMCID: PMC2880298  PMID: 20423510

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