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1.  Computational methods for Gene Orthology inference 
Briefings in Bioinformatics  2011;12(5):379-391.
Accurate inference of orthologous genes is a pre-requisite for most comparative genomics studies, and is also important for functional annotation of new genomes. Identification of orthologous gene sets typically involves phylogenetic tree analysis, heuristic algorithms based on sequence conservation, synteny analysis, or some combination of these approaches. The most direct tree-based methods typically rely on the comparison of an individual gene tree with a species tree. Once the two trees are accurately constructed, orthologs are straightforwardly identified by the definition of orthology as those homologs that are related by speciation, rather than gene duplication, at their most recent point of origin. Although ideal for the purpose of orthology identification in principle, phylogenetic trees are computationally expensive to construct for large numbers of genes and genomes, and they often contain errors, especially at large evolutionary distances. Moreover, in many organisms, in particular prokaryotes and viruses, evolution does not appear to have followed a simple ‘tree-like’ mode, which makes conventional tree reconciliation inapplicable. Other, heuristic methods identify probable orthologs as the closest homologous pairs or groups of genes in a set of organisms. These approaches are faster and easier to automate than tree-based methods, with efficient implementations provided by graph-theoretical algorithms enabling comparisons of thousands of genomes. Comparisons of these two approaches show that, despite conceptual differences, they produce similar sets of orthologs, especially at short evolutionary distances. Synteny also can aid in identification of orthologs. Often, tree-based, sequence similarity- and synteny-based approaches can be combined into flexible hybrid methods.
PMCID: PMC3178053  PMID: 21690100
homolog; ortholog; paralog; xenolog; orthologous groups; tree reconciliation; comparative genomics
2.  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
3.  CRISPR-Cas 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):679-686.
The CRISPR-Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, CRISPR-associated genes) is an adaptive immunity system in bacteria and archaea that functions via a distinct self-non-self recognition mechanism that is partially analogous to the mechanism of eukaryotic RNA interference (RNAi). The CRISPR-Cas system incorporates fragments of virus or plasmid DNA into the CRISPR repeat cassettes and employs the processed transcripts of these spacers as guide RNAs to cleave the cognate foreign DNA or RNA. The Cas proteins, however, are not homologous to the proteins involved in RNAi and comprise numerous, highly diverged families. The majority of the Cas proteins contain diverse variants of the RNA recognition motif (RRM), a widespread RNA-binding domain. Despite the fast evolution that is typical of the cas genes, the presence of diverse versions of the RRM in most Cas proteins provides for a simple scenario for the evolution of the three distinct types of CRISPR-cas systems. In addition to several proteins that are directly implicated in the immune response, the cas genes encode a variety of proteins that are homologous to prokaryotic toxins that typically possess nuclease activity. The predicted toxins associated with CRISPR-Cas systems include the essential Cas2 protein, proteins of COG1517 that, in addition to a ligand-binding domain and a helix-turn-helix domain, typically contain different nuclease domains and several other predicted nucleases. The tight association of the CRISPR-Cas immunity systems with predicted toxins that, upon activation, would induce dormancy or cell death suggests that adaptive immunity and dormancy/suicide response are functionally coupled. Such coupling could manifest in the persistence state being induced and potentially providing conditions for more effective action of the immune system or in cell death being triggered when immunity fails.
PMCID: PMC3737325  PMID: 23439366
CRISPR-Cas; adaptive immunity; innate immunity; programmed cell death; dormancy; RRM domain
4.  CARF and WYL domains: ligand-binding regulators of prokaryotic defense systems 
Frontiers in Genetics  2014;5:102.
CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity systems of bacteria and archaea insert fragments of virus or plasmid DNA as spacer sequences into CRISPR repeat loci. Processed transcripts encompassing these spacers guide the cleavage of the cognate foreign DNA or RNA. Most CRISPR-Cas loci, in addition to recognized cas genes, also include genes that are not directly implicated in spacer acquisition, CRISPR transcript processing or interference. Here we comprehensively analyze sequences, structures and genomic neighborhoods of one of the most widespread groups of such genes that encode proteins containing a predicted nucleotide-binding domain with a Rossmann-like fold, which we denote CARF (CRISPR-associated Rossmann fold). Several CARF protein structures have been determined but functional characterization of these proteins is lacking. The CARF domain is most frequently combined with a C-terminal winged helix-turn-helix DNA-binding domain and “effector” domains most of which are predicted to possess DNase or RNase activity. Divergent CARF domains are also found in RtcR proteins, sigma-54 dependent regulators of the rtc RNA repair operon. CARF genes frequently co-occur with those coding for proteins containing the WYL domain with the Sm-like SH3 β-barrel fold, which is also predicted to bind ligands. CRISPR-Cas and possibly other defense systems are predicted to be transcriptionally regulated by multiple ligand-binding proteins containing WYL and CARF domains which sense modified nucleotides and nucleotide derivatives generated during virus infection. We hypothesize that CARF domains also transmit the signal from the bound ligand to the fused effector domains which attack either alien or self nucleic acids, resulting, respectively, in immunity complementing the CRISPR-Cas action or in dormancy/programmed cell death.
PMCID: PMC4012209  PMID: 24817877
CRISPR; Rossmann fold; beta barrel; DNA-binding proteins; phage defense
5.  Coupling Between Protein Level Selection and Codon Usage Optimization in the Evolution of Bacteria and Archaea 
mBio  2014;5(2):e00956-14.
The relationship between the selection affecting codon usage and selection on protein sequences of orthologous genes in diverse groups of bacteria and archaea was examined by using the Alignable Tight Genome Clusters database of prokaryote genomes. The codon usage bias is generally low, with 57.5% of the gene-specific optimal codon frequencies (Fopt) being below 0.55. This apparent weak selection on codon usage contrasts with the strong purifying selection on amino acid sequences, with 65.8% of the gene-specific dN/dS ratios being below 0.1. For most of the genomes compared, a limited but statistically significant negative correlation between Fopt and dN/dS was observed, which is indicative of a link between selection on protein sequence and selection on codon usage. The strength of the coupling between the protein level selection and codon usage bias showed a strong positive correlation with the genomic GC content. Combined with previous observations on the selection for GC-rich codons in bacteria and archaea with GC-rich genomes, these findings suggest that selection for translational fine-tuning could be an important factor in microbial evolution that drives the evolution of genome GC content away from mutational equilibrium. This type of selection is particularly pronounced in slowly evolving, “high-status” genes. A significantly stronger link between the two aspects of selection is observed in free-living bacteria than in parasitic bacteria and in genes encoding metabolic enzymes and transporters than in informational genes. These differences might reflect the special importance of translational fine-tuning for the adaptability of gene expression to environmental changes. The results of this work establish the coupling between protein level selection and selection for translational optimization as a distinct and potentially important factor in microbial evolution.
Selection affects the evolution of microbial genomes at many levels, including both the structure of proteins and the regulation of their production. Here we demonstrate the coupling between the selection on protein sequences and the optimization of codon usage in a broad range of bacteria and archaea. The strength of this coupling varies over a wide range and strongly and positively correlates with the genomic GC content. The cause(s) of the evolution of high GC content is a long-standing open question, given the universal mutational bias toward AT. We propose that optimization of codon usage could be one of the key factors that determine the evolution of GC-rich genomes. This work establishes the coupling between selection at the level of protein sequence and at the level of codon choice optimization as a distinct aspect of genome evolution.
PMCID: PMC3977353  PMID: 24667707
6.  Elaborate security TRAINing to fight against expression of genomic junk 
Cell Cycle  2013;12(4):553-554.
A new study shows that the expression of two classes of repetitive elements in the mouse genome is controlled through two complementary mechanisms: DNA methylation and p53-mediated transcription suppression.¹ When both lines of defense fail, expression of the repeats yields large quantities of double-stranded RNA, triggering interferon response that leads to caspase-dependent cell death. These notable findings highlight two fundamental trends: tight coupling of defense and cell death mechanisms that appears to be universal in cellular life and the exploitation of the expression of “junk” DNA as a signal triggering “altruistic” cell suicide.
PMCID: PMC3594256  PMID: 23370394
p53; transposable elements; SINE repeats; DNA methylation; interferon response
7.  Evolutionary Dynamics of the Prokaryotic Adaptive Immunity System CRISPR-Cas in an Explicit Ecological Context 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(17):3834-3844.
A stochastic, agent-based mathematical model of the coevolution of the archaeal and bacterial adaptive immunity system, CRISPR-Cas, and lytic viruses shows that CRISPR-Cas immunity can stabilize the virus-host coexistence rather than leading to the extinction of the virus. In the model, CRISPR-Cas immunity does not specifically promote viral diversity, presumably because the selection pressure on each single proto-spacer is too weak. However, the overall virus diversity in the presence of CRISPR-Cas grows due to the increase of the host and, accordingly, the virus population size. Above a threshold value of total viral diversity, which is proportional to the viral mutation rate and population size, the CRISPR-Cas system becomes ineffective and is lost due to the associated fitness cost. Our previous modeling study has suggested that the ubiquity of CRISPR-Cas in hyperthermophiles, which contrasts its comparative low prevalence in mesophiles, is due to lower rates of mutation fixation in thermal habitats. The present findings offer a complementary, simpler perspective on this contrast through the larger population sizes of mesophiles compared to hyperthermophiles, because of which CRISPR-Cas can become ineffective in mesophiles. The efficacy of CRISPR-Cas sharply increases with the number of proto-spacers per viral genome, potentially explaining the low information content of the proto-spacer-associated motif (PAM) that is required for spacer acquisition by CRISPR-Cas because a higher specificity would restrict the number of spacers available to CRISPR-Cas, thus hampering immunity. The very existence of the PAM might reflect the tradeoff between the requirement of diverse spacers for efficient immunity and avoidance of autoimmunity.
PMCID: PMC3754601  PMID: 23794616
8.  Orthologous Gene Clusters and Taxon Signature Genes for Viruses of Prokaryotes 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(5):941-950.
Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on earth and encompass a vast amount of genetic diversity. The recent rapid increase in the number of sequenced viral genomes has created unprecedented opportunities for gaining new insight into the structure and evolution of the virosphere. Here, we present an update of the phage orthologous groups (POGs), a collection of 4,542 clusters of orthologous genes from bacteriophages that now also includes viruses infecting archaea and encompasses more than 1,000 distinct virus genomes. Analysis of this expanded data set shows that the number of POGs keeps growing without saturation and that a substantial majority of the POGs remain specific to viruses, lacking homologues in prokaryotic cells, outside known proviruses. Thus, the great majority of virus genes apparently remains to be discovered. A complementary observation is that numerous viral genomes remain poorly, if at all, covered by POGs. The genome coverage by POGs is expected to increase as more genomes are sequenced. Taxon-specific, single-copy signature genes that are not observed in prokaryotic genomes outside detected proviruses were identified for two-thirds of the 57 taxa (those with genomes available from at least 3 distinct viruses), with half of these present in all members of the respective taxon. These signatures can be used to specifically identify the presence and quantify the abundance of viruses from particular taxa in metagenomic samples and thus gain new insights into the ecology and evolution of viruses in relation to their hosts.
PMCID: PMC3571318  PMID: 23222723
9.  Viral Diversity Threshold for Adaptive Immunity in Prokaryotes 
mBio  2012;3(6):e00456-12.
Bacteria and archaea face continual onslaughts of rapidly diversifying viruses and plasmids. Many prokaryotes maintain adaptive immune systems known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated genes (Cas). CRISPR-Cas systems are genomic sensors that serially acquire viral and plasmid DNA fragments (spacers) that are utilized to target and cleave matching viral and plasmid DNA in subsequent genomic invasions, offering critical immunological memory. Only 50% of sequenced bacteria possess CRISPR-Cas immunity, in contrast to over 90% of sequenced archaea. To probe why half of bacteria lack CRISPR-Cas immunity, we combined comparative genomics and mathematical modeling. Analysis of hundreds of diverse prokaryotic genomes shows that CRISPR-Cas systems are substantially more prevalent in thermophiles than in mesophiles. With sequenced bacteria disproportionately mesophilic and sequenced archaea mostly thermophilic, the presence of CRISPR-Cas appears to depend more on environmental temperature than on bacterial-archaeal taxonomy. Mutation rates are typically severalfold higher in mesophilic prokaryotes than in thermophilic prokaryotes. To quantitatively test whether accelerated viral mutation leads microbes to lose CRISPR-Cas systems, we developed a stochastic model of virus-CRISPR coevolution. The model competes CRISPR-Cas-positive (CRISPR-Cas+) prokaryotes against CRISPR-Cas-negative (CRISPR-Cas−) prokaryotes, continually weighing the antiviral benefits conferred by CRISPR-Cas immunity against its fitness costs. Tracking this cost-benefit analysis across parameter space reveals viral mutation rate thresholds beyond which CRISPR-Cas cannot provide sufficient immunity and is purged from host populations. These results offer a simple, testable viral diversity hypothesis to explain why mesophilic bacteria disproportionately lack CRISPR-Cas immunity. More generally, fundamental limits on the adaptability of biological sensors (Lamarckian evolution) are predicted.
A remarkable recent discovery in microbiology is that bacteria and archaea possess systems conferring immunological memory and adaptive immunity. Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated genes (CRISPR-Cas) are genomic sensors that allow prokaryotes to acquire DNA fragments from invading viruses and plasmids. Providing immunological memory, these stored fragments destroy matching DNA in future viral and plasmid invasions. CRISPR-Cas systems also provide adaptive immunity, keeping up with mutating viruses and plasmids by continually acquiring new DNA fragments. Surprisingly, less than 50% of mesophilic bacteria, in contrast to almost 90% of thermophilic bacteria and Archaea, maintain CRISPR-Cas immunity. Using mathematical modeling, we probe this dichotomy, showing how increased viral mutation rates can explain the reduced prevalence of CRISPR-Cas systems in mesophiles. Rapidly mutating viruses outrun CRISPR-Cas immune systems, likely decreasing their prevalence in bacterial populations. Thus, viral adaptability may select against, rather than for, immune adaptability in prokaryotes.
PMCID: PMC3517865  PMID: 23221803
10.  Replaying the Tape of Life: Quantification of the Predictability of Evolution 
Frontiers in Genetics  2012;3:246.
The question whether adaptation follows a deterministic route largely prescribed by the environment or can proceed along a large number of alternative trajectories has engaged extensive research over the recent years. Experimental evolution studies enabled by advances in high throughput techniques for genome sequencing and manipulation, along with increasingly detailed mathematical modeling of fitness landscapes, are beginning to allow quantitative exploration of the repeatability of evolutionary trajectories. It is becoming clear that evolutionary trajectories in static correlated fitness landscapes are substantially non-random but the relative contributions of determinism and stochasticity in the evolution of specific phenotypes strongly depend on the specific conditions, particularly the magnitude of the selective pressure and the number of available beneficial mutations.
PMCID: PMC3509945  PMID: 23226153
evolutionary trajectory; predictability of evolution; fitness landscape; divergence of trajectories
11.  Towards a postmodern synthesis of evolutionary biology 
Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)  2009;8(6):799-800.
In 2009, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin and the 150th jubilee of his masterpiece, the Origin of Species. Darwin developed the first coherent and compelling narrative of biological evolution and thus founded evolutionary biology—and modern biology in general, remembering the famous dictum of Dobzhansky. It is, however, counter-productive, and ultimately, a disservice to Darwin’s legacy, to define modern evolutionary biology as neo-Darwinism. The current picture of evolution, informed, in particular, by results of comparative genomics and systems biology, is by far more complex than that presented in the Origin of Species, so that Darwinian principles, including natural selection, are incorporated into the evolving new synthesis as important but certainly not all-embracing tenets. This expansion of evolutionary biology does not denigrate Darwin in the least but rather emphasizes the fertility of his ideas.
PMCID: PMC3410441  PMID: 19242109
Darwin’s anniversary; Darwinism; modern synthesis; genome evolution; systems biology; horizontal gene transfer; Tree of Life
12.  Comparison of Phylogenetic Trees and Search for a Central Trend in the “Forest of Life” 
Journal of Computational Biology  2011;18(7):917-924.
The widespread exchange of genes among prokaryotes, known as horizontal gene transfer (HGT), is often considered to “uproot” the Tree of Life (TOL). Indeed, it is by now fully clear that genes in general possess different evolutionary histories. However, the possibility remains that the TOL concept can be reformulated and remain valid as a statistical central trend in the phylogenetic “Forest of Life” (FOL). This article describes a computational pipeline developed to chart the FOL by comparative analysis of thousands of phylogenetic trees. This analysis reveals a distinct, consistent phylogenetic signal that is particularly strong among the Nearly Universal Trees (NUTs), which correspond to genes represented in all or most of the analyzed organisms. Despite the substantial amount of apparent HGT seen even among the NUTs, these gene transfers appear to be distributed randomly and do not obscure the central tree-like trend.
PMCID: PMC3123530  PMID: 21457008
evolution; genomics
13.  Reviewer acknowledgement 
Biology Direct  2015;10:7.
Contributing reviewers
The editors of Biology Direct would like to thank all the reviewers who have contributed to the journal in Volume 9 (2014).
PMCID: PMC4336480
14.  Quantifying the similarity of monotonic trajectories in rough and smooth fitness landscapes 
Molecular bioSystems  2013;9(7):1627-1631.
When selection is strong and mutations are rare, evolution can be thought of as an uphill trajectory in a rugged fitness landscape. In this context the fitness landscape is a directed acyclic graph in which nodes are genotypes and edges lead from lower to higher fitness genotypes that differ by a single mutation. Because the space of genotypes is vastly multi-dimensional, classification of fitness landscapes is challenging. Many proposed summary characteristics of fitness landscapes attempt to quantify biologically relevant and intuitive notions such as roughness or peak accessibility in alternative ways. Here we explore, in different types of landscapes, the behavior of the recently introduced mean path divergence which quantifies the degree of similarity among evolutionary trajectories with the same endpoints. We find that monotonic trajectories in empirical and model fitness landscapes are significantly more constrained, with low median path divergence, than those in purely additive landscapes. By contrast, transcription factor sequence specificity (aptamer binding affinity) landscapes are markedly smoother and allow substantial variability in monotonic paths that can be greater than that in fully additive landscapes. We propose that the smoothness of the specificity landscapes is a consequence of the simple dependence of the transcription factor binding affinity on the aptamer sequence in contrast to the complex sequence-fitness mapping in folding landscapes.
PMCID: PMC4325993  PMID: 23460358
15.  A virocentric perspective on the evolution of life 
Current opinion in virology  2013;3(5):546-557.
Viruses and/or virus-like selfish elements are associated with all cellular life forms and are the most abundant biological entities on Earth, with the number of virus particles in many environments exceeding the number of cells by one to two orders of magnitude. The genetic diversity of viruses is commensurately enormous and might substantially exceed the diversity of cellular organisms. Unlike cellular organisms with their uniform replication-expression scheme, viruses possess either RNA or DNA genomes and exploit all conceivable replication-expression strategies. Although viruses extensively exchange genes with their hosts, there exists a set of viral hallmark genes that are shared by extremely diverse groups of viruses to the exclusion of cellular life forms. Coevolution of viruses and host defense systems is a key aspect in the evolution of both viruses and cells, and viral genes are often recruited for cellular functions. Together with the fundamental inevitability of the emergence of genomic parasites in any evolving replicator system, these multiple lines of evidence reveal the central role of viruses in the entire evolution of life.
PMCID: PMC4326007  PMID: 23850169
16.  Nature and Intensity of Selection Pressure on CRISPR-Associated Genes 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(5):1216-1225.
The recently discovered CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune system is present in almost all archaea and many bacteria. It consists of cassettes of CRISPR repeats that incorporate spacers homologous to fragments of viral or plasmid genomes that are employed as guide RNAs in the immune response, along with numerous CRISPR-associated (cas) genes that encode proteins possessing diverse, only partially characterized activities required for the action of the system. Here, we investigate the evolution of the cas genes and show that they evolve under purifying selection that is typically much weaker than the median strength of purifying selection affecting genes in the respective genomes. The exceptions are the cas1 and cas2 genes that typically evolve at levels of purifying selection close to the genomic median. Thus, although these genes are implicated in the acquisition of spacers from alien genomes, they do not appear to be directly involved in an arms race between bacterial and archaeal hosts and infectious agents. These genes might possess functions distinct from and additional to their role in the CRISPR-Cas-mediated immune response. Taken together with evidence of the frequent horizontal transfer of cas genes reported previously and with the wide-spread microscale recombination within these genes detected in this work, these findings reveal the highly dynamic evolution of cas genes. This conclusion is in line with the involvement of CRISPR-Cas in antiviral immunity that is likely to entail a coevolutionary arms race with rapidly evolving viruses. However, we failed to detect evidence of strong positive selection in any of the cas genes.
PMCID: PMC3294813  PMID: 22178975
17.  Evolution of microbes and viruses: a paradigm shift in evolutionary biology? 
When Charles Darwin formulated the central principles of evolutionary biology in the Origin of Species in 1859 and the architects of the Modern Synthesis integrated these principles with population genetics almost a century later, the principal if not the sole objects of evolutionary biology were multicellular eukaryotes, primarily animals and plants. Before the advent of efficient gene sequencing, all attempts to extend evolutionary studies to bacteria have been futile. Sequencing of the rRNA genes in thousands of microbes allowed the construction of the three- domain “ribosomal Tree of Life” that was widely thought to have resolved the evolutionary relationships between the cellular life forms. However, subsequent massive sequencing of numerous, complete microbial genomes revealed novel evolutionary phenomena, the most fundamental of these being: (1) pervasive horizontal gene transfer (HGT), in large part mediated by viruses and plasmids, that shapes the genomes of archaea and bacteria and call for a radical revision (if not abandonment) of the Tree of Life concept, (2) Lamarckian-type inheritance that appears to be critical for antivirus defense and other forms of adaptation in prokaryotes, and (3) evolution of evolvability, i.e., dedicated mechanisms for evolution such as vehicles for HGT and stress-induced mutagenesis systems. In the non-cellular part of the microbial world, phylogenomics and metagenomics of viruses and related selfish genetic elements revealed enormous genetic and molecular diversity and extremely high abundance of viruses that come across as the dominant biological entities on earth. Furthermore, the perennial arms race between viruses and their hosts is one of the defining factors of evolution. Thus, microbial phylogenomics adds new dimensions to the fundamental picture of evolution even as the principle of descent with modification discovered by Darwin and the laws of population genetics remain at the core of evolutionary biology.
PMCID: PMC3440604  PMID: 22993722
Darwin; modern synthesis; comparative genomics; tree of life; horizontal gene transfer
18.  Hax1 is not a Bcl-2-family-related protein and does not present Omi/HtrA2 to PARL : implications for mitochondrial stress and apoptosis 
Cell death and differentiation  2009;16(12):1622-1629.
Hax1 plays an important role in immunodeficiency syndromes and apoptosis. Recently, Chao et al., (Nature, 2008) reported that Hax1 is a Bcl-2-family-related protein required to suppress apoptosis in lymphocytes and neurons via a mechanism that involves association to the rhomboid protease PARL in the mitochondria intermembrane space (IMS). Mechanistically, Hax1/PARL interaction allows the recruitment of the serine protease Omi/HtrA2 and its presentation to PARL, which cleaves it to generate a form of Omi/HtrA2 that may proteolytically eliminate active Bax during mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP). The results of this study imply that the control of cell-type sensitivity to proapoptotic stimuli is governed by the PARL/Hax1 complex in the IMS and, more generally, that Bcl-2-family-related proteins can control MOMP from the inside of the mitochondrion. Further, it defines a novel, antiapoptotic Opa1-independent pathway for PARL. Here we present evidence that Hax1 is not a Bcl-2-family-related protein. Also, that in vivo the activity of Hax1 cannot be mechanistically coupled to PARL because the two proteins are confined in distinct cellular compartments and their interaction in vitro is an artifact. Our results indicate a different function and mechanism of Hax1 in apoptosis and re-opens the question of whether mammalian PARL, in addition to apoptosis, regulates mitochondrial stress response through Omi/HtrA2 processing.
PMCID: PMC4300852  PMID: 19680265
Parl; Hax1; Omi; HtrA2; rhomboids; serine protease; mitochondrial stress; mitochondria dynamics; apoptosis; neurodegenerative disease; Parkinson's disease; cancer
19.  Origin and Evolution of Eukaryotic Large Nucleo-Cytoplasmic DNA Viruses 
Intervirology  2010;53(5):284-292.
The nucleo-cytoplasmic large DNA viruses (NCLDV) constitute an apparently monophyletic group that consists of 6 families of viruses infecting a broad variety of eukaryotes. A comprehensive genome comparison and maximum-likelihood reconstruction of NCLDV evolution reveal a set of approximately 50 conserved genes that can be tentatively mapped to the genome of the common ancestor of this class of eukaryotic viruses. We address the origins and evolution of NCLDV.
Phylogenetic analysis indicates that some of the major clades of NCLDV infect diverse animals and protists, suggestive of early radiation of the NCLDV, possibly concomitant with eukaryogenesis. The core NCLDV genes seem to have originated from different sources including homologous genes of bacteriophages, bacteria and eukaryotes. These observations are compatible with a scenario of the origin of the NCLDV at an early stage of the evolution of eukaryotes through extensive mixing of genes from widely different genomes.
The common ancestor of the NCLDV probably evolved from a bacteriophage as a result of recruitment of numerous eukaryotic and some bacterial genes, and concomitant loss of the majority of phage genes except for a small core of genes coding for proteins essential for virus genome replication and virion formation.
PMCID: PMC2895762  PMID: 20551680
Bacteriophage; Eukaryogenesis; Nucleo-cytoplasmic large DNA viruses, evolution; Phylogenetic analysis
20.  CRISPR-Cas: an adaptive immunity system in prokaryotes 
Most of the archaea and numerous bacteria possess an elaborate system of adaptive immunity to mobile genetic elements known as the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-associated system (CRISPR-Cas), which consists of arrays of short repeats interspersed with unique DNA spacers and adjacent operons encompassing CRISPR-associated (cas) genes with predicted and, in some cases, experimentally validated nuclease, helicase, and polymerase activities. The system functions by integrating fragments of alien DNA between the repeats and employing their transcripts to degrade the DNA of the respective invading elements via an RNA interference-like mechanism. The CRISPR-Cas system is a case of apparent Lamarckian inheritance.
PMCID: PMC2884157  PMID: 20556198
21.  Archaeal Ubiquitin-Like Proteins: Functional Versatility and Putative Ancestral Involvement in tRNA Modification Revealed by Comparative Genomic Analysis 
Archaea  2010;2010:710303.
The recent discovery of protein modification by SAMPs, ubiquitin-like (Ubl) proteins from the archaeon Haloferax volcanii, prompted a comprehensive comparative-genomic analysis of archaeal Ubl protein genes and the genes for enzymes thought to be functionally associated with Ubl proteins. This analysis showed that most archaea encode members of two major groups of Ubl proteins with the β-grasp fold, the ThiS and MoaD families, and indicated that the ThiS family genes are rarely linked to genes for thiamine or Mo/W cofactor metabolism enzymes but instead are most often associated with genes for enzymes of tRNA modification. Therefore it is hypothesized that the ancestral function of the archaeal Ubl proteins is sulfur insertion into modified nucleotides in tRNAs, an activity analogous to that of the URM1 protein in eukaryotes. Together with additional, previously described genomic associations, these findings indicate that systems for protein quality control operating at different levels, including tRNA modification that controls translation fidelity, protein ubiquitination that regulates protein degradation, and, possibly, mRNA degradation by the exosome, are functionally and evolutionarily linked.
PMCID: PMC2948915  PMID: 20936112
22.  MitoCOGs: clusters of orthologous genes from mitochondria and implications for the evolution of eukaryotes 
BMC Evolutionary Biology  2014;14(1):237.
Mitochondria are ubiquitous membranous organelles of eukaryotic cells that evolved from an alpha-proteobacterial endosymbiont and possess a small genome that encompasses from 3 to 106 genes. Accumulation of thousands of mitochondrial genomes from diverse groups of eukaryotes provides an opportunity for a comprehensive reconstruction of the evolution of the mitochondrial gene repertoire.
Clusters of orthologous mitochondrial protein-coding genes (MitoCOGs) were constructed from all available mitochondrial genomes and complemented with nuclear orthologs of mitochondrial genes. With minimal exceptions, the mitochondrial gene complements of eukaryotes are subsets of the superset of 66 genes found in jakobids. Reconstruction of the evolution of mitochondrial genomes indicates that the mitochondrial gene set of the last common ancestor of the extant eukaryotes was slightly larger than that of jakobids. This superset of mitochondrial genes likely represents an intermediate stage following the loss and transfer to the nucleus of most of the endosymbiont genes early in eukaryote evolution. Subsequent evolution in different lineages involved largely parallel transfer of ancestral endosymbiont genes to the nuclear genome. The intron density in nuclear orthologs of mitochondrial genes typically is nearly the same as in the rest of the genes in the respective genomes. However, in land plants, the intron density in nuclear orthologs of mitochondrial genes is almost 1.5-fold lower than the genomic mean, suggestive of ongoing transfer of functional genes from mitochondria to the nucleus.
The MitoCOGs are expected to become an important resource for the study of mitochondrial evolution. The nearly complete superset of mitochondrial genes in jakobids likely represents an intermediate stage in the evolution of eukaryotes after the initial, extensive loss and transfer of the endosymbiont genes. In addition, the bacterial multi-subunit RNA polymerase that is encoded in the jakobid mitochondrial genomes was replaced by a single-subunit phage-type RNA polymerase in the rest of the eukaryotes. These results are best compatible with the rooting of the eukaryotic tree between jakobids and the rest of the eukaryotes. The land plants are the only eukaryotic branch in which the gene transfer from the mitochondrial to the nuclear genome appears to be an active, ongoing process.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12862-014-0237-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4256733  PMID: 25421434
Mitochondria; Genome evolution; Gene loss; Gene transfer; Introns; Clusters of orthologous genes
23.  Intron-Dominated Genomes of Early Ancestors of Eukaryotes 
Journal of Heredity  2009;100(5):618-623.
Evolutionary reconstructions using maximum likelihood methods point to unexpectedly high densities of introns in protein-coding genes of ancestral eukaryotic forms including the last common ancestor of all extant eukaryotes. Combined with the evidence of the origin of spliceosomal introns from invading Group II self-splicing introns, these results suggest that early ancestral eukaryotic genomes consisted of up to 80% sequences derived from Group II introns, a much greater contribution of introns than that seen in any extant genome. An organism with such an unusual genome architecture could survive only under conditions of a severe population bottleneck.
PMCID: PMC2877545  PMID: 19617525
effective population size; endosymbiosis; group II self-splicing introns; origin of eukaryotes; spliceosomal introns
24.  EREM: Parameter Estimation and Ancestral Reconstruction by Expectation-Maximization Algorithm for a Probabilistic Model of Genomic Binary Characters Evolution 
Advances in Bioinformatics  2010;2010:167408.
Evolutionary binary characters are features of species or genes, indicating the absence (value zero) or presence (value one) of some property. Examples include eukaryotic gene architecture (the presence or absence of an intron in a particular locus), gene content, and morphological characters. In many studies, the acquisition of such binary characters is assumed to represent a rare evolutionary event, and consequently, their evolution is analyzed using various flavors of parsimony. However, when gain and loss of the character are not rare enough, a probabilistic analysis becomes essential. Here, we present a comprehensive probabilistic model to describe the evolution of binary characters on a bifurcating phylogenetic tree. A fast software tool, EREM, is provided, using maximum likelihood to estimate the parameters of the model and to reconstruct ancestral states (presence and absence in internal nodes) and events (gain and loss events along branches).
PMCID: PMC2866244  PMID: 20467467
25.  Chordopoxvirus protein F12 implicated in enveloped virion morphogenesis is an inactivated DNA polymerase 
Biology Direct  2014;9:22.
Through the course of their evolution, viruses with large genomes have acquired numerous host genes, most of which perform function in virus reproduction in a manner that is related to their original activities in the cells, but some are exapted for new roles. Here we report the unexpected finding that protein F12, which is conserved among the chordopoxviruses and is implicated in the morphogenesis of enveloped intracellular virions, is a derived DNA polymerase, possibly of bacteriophage origin, in which the polymerase domain and probably the exonuclease domain have been inactivated. Thus, F12 appears to present a rare example of a drastic, exaptive functional change in virus evolution.
Reviewers: This article was reviewed by Frank Eisenhaber and Juergen Brosius. For complete reviews, go the Reviewers’ Reports section.
PMCID: PMC4304020  PMID: 25374149
DNA polymerase; Exaptation; Poxviruses; Evolution of viruses

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