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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  Dark matter in archaeal genomes: a rich source of novel mobile elements, defense systems and secretory complexes 
Extremophiles  2014;18(5):877-893.
Microbial genomes encompass a sizable fraction of poorly characterized, narrowly spread fast-evolving genes. Using sensitive methods for sequences comparison and protein structure prediction, we performed a detailed comparative analysis of clusters of such genes, which we denote “dark matter islands”, in archaeal genomes. The dark matter islands comprise up to 20 % of archaeal genomes and show remarkable heterogeneity and diversity. Nevertheless, three classes of entities are common in these genomic loci: (a) integrated viral genomes and other mobile elements; (b) defense systems, and (c) secretory and other membrane-associated systems. The dark matter islands in the genome of thermophiles and mesophiles show similar general trends of gene content, but thermophiles are substantially enriched in predicted membrane proteins whereas mesophiles have a greater proportion of recognizable mobile elements. Based on this analysis, we predict the existence of several novel groups of viruses and mobile elements, previously unnoticed variants of CRISPR-Cas immune systems, and new secretory systems that might be involved in stress response, intermicrobial conflicts and biogenesis of novel, uncharacterized membrane structures.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00792-014-0672-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4158269  PMID: 25113822
Archaeal genomes; ORFans; Genomic islands; Integration; Viruses; Defense
5.  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
6.  Classification and evolution of type II CRISPR-Cas systems 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(10):6091-6105.
The CRISPR-Cas systems of archaeal and bacterial adaptive immunity are classified into three types that differ by the repertoires of CRISPR-associated (cas) genes, the organization of cas operons and the structure of repeats in the CRISPR arrays. The simplest among the CRISPR-Cas systems is type II in which the endonuclease activities required for the interference with foreign deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) are concentrated in a single multidomain protein, Cas9, and are guided by a co-processed dual-tracrRNA:crRNA molecule. This compact enzymatic machinery and readily programmable site-specific DNA targeting make type II systems top candidates for a new generation of powerful tools for genomic engineering. Here we report an updated census of CRISPR-Cas systems in bacterial and archaeal genomes. Type II systems are the rarest, missing in archaea, and represented in ∼5% of bacterial genomes, with an over-representation among pathogens and commensals. Phylogenomic analysis suggests that at least three cas genes, cas1, cas2 and cas4, and the CRISPR repeats of the type II-B system were acquired via recombination with a type I CRISPR-Cas locus. Distant homologs of Cas9 were identified among proteins encoded by diverse transposons, suggesting that type II CRISPR-Cas evolved via recombination of mobile nuclease genes with type I loci.
PMCID: PMC4041416  PMID: 24728998
7.  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
8.  Phylogeny of Cas9 determines functional exchangeability of dual-RNA and Cas9 among orthologous type II CRISPR-Cas systems 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;42(4):2577-2590.
The CRISPR-Cas-derived RNA-guided Cas9 endonuclease is the key element of an emerging promising technology for genome engineering in a broad range of cells and organisms. The DNA-targeting mechanism of the type II CRISPR-Cas system involves maturation of tracrRNA:crRNA duplex (dual-RNA), which directs Cas9 to cleave invading DNA in a sequence-specific manner, dependent on the presence of a Protospacer Adjacent Motif (PAM) on the target. We show that evolution of dual-RNA and Cas9 in bacteria produced remarkable sequence diversity. We selected eight representatives of phylogenetically defined type II CRISPR-Cas groups to analyze possible coevolution of Cas9 and dual-RNA. We demonstrate that these two components are interchangeable only between closely related type II systems when the PAM sequence is adjusted to the investigated Cas9 protein. Comparison of the taxonomy of bacterial species that harbor type II CRISPR-Cas systems with the Cas9 phylogeny corroborates horizontal transfer of the CRISPR-Cas loci. The reported collection of dual-RNA:Cas9 with associated PAMs expands the possibilities for multiplex genome editing and could provide means to improve the specificity of the RNA-programmable Cas9 tool.
PMCID: PMC3936727  PMID: 24270795
9.  Comparative genomics of defense systems in archaea and bacteria 
Nucleic Acids Research  2013;41(8):4360-4377.
Our knowledge of prokaryotic defense systems has vastly expanded as the result of comparative genomic analysis, followed by experimental validation. This expansion is both quantitative, including the discovery of diverse new examples of known types of defense systems, such as restriction-modification or toxin-antitoxin systems, and qualitative, including the discovery of fundamentally new defense mechanisms, such as the CRISPR-Cas immunity system. Large-scale statistical analysis reveals that the distribution of different defense systems in bacterial and archaeal taxa is non-uniform, with four groups of organisms distinguishable with respect to the overall abundance and the balance between specific types of defense systems. The genes encoding defense system components in bacterial and archaea typically cluster in defense islands. In addition to genes encoding known defense systems, these islands contain numerous uncharacterized genes, which are candidates for new types of defense systems. The tight association of the genes encoding immunity systems and dormancy- or cell death-inducing defense systems in prokaryotic genomes suggests that these two major types of defense are functionally coupled, providing for effective protection at the population level.
PMCID: PMC3632139  PMID: 23470997
10.  Novel Bacteriophages Containing a Genome of Another Bacteriophage within Their Genomes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e40683.
A novel bacteriophage infecting Staphylococus pasteuri was isolated during a screen for phages in Antarctic soils. The phage named SpaA1 is morphologically similar to phages of the family Siphoviridae. The 42,784 bp genome of SpaA1 is a linear, double-stranded DNA molecule with 3′ protruding cohesive ends. The SpaA1 genome encompasses 63 predicted protein-coding genes which cluster within three regions of the genome, each of apparently different origin, in a mosaic pattern. In two of these regions, the gene sets resemble those in prophages of Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki str. T03a001 (genes involved in DNA replication/transcription, cell entry and exit) and B. cereus AH676 (additional regulatory and recombination genes), respectively. The third region represents an almost complete genome (except for the short terminal segments) of a distinct bacteriophage, MZTP02. Nearly the same gene module was identified in prophages of B. thuringiensis serovar monterrey BGSC 4AJ1 and B. cereus Rock4-2. These findings suggest that MZTP02 can be shuttled between genomes of other bacteriophages and prophages, leading to the formation of chimeric genomes. The presence of a complete phage genome in the genome of other phages apparently has not been described previously and might represent a ‘fast track’ route of virus evolution and horizontal gene transfer. Another phage (BceA1) nearly identical in sequence to SpaA1, and also including the almost complete MZTP02 genome within its own genome, was isolated from a bacterium of the B. cereus/B. thuringiensis group. Remarkably, both SpaA1 and BceA1 phages can infect B. cereus and B. thuringiensis, but only one of them, SpaA1, can infect S. pasteuri. This finding is best compatible with a scenario in which MZTP02 was originally contained in BceA1 infecting Bacillus spp, the common hosts for these two phages, followed by emergence of SpaA1 infecting S. pasteuri.
PMCID: PMC3398947  PMID: 22815791
11.  Evolution of diverse cell division and vesicle formation systems in Archaea 
Nature Reviews. Microbiology  2010;8(10):731-741.
Recently a novel cell division system comprised of homologues of eukaryotic ESCRT-III (endosomal sorting complex required for transport III) proteins was discovered in the hyperthermophilic crenarchaeote Sulfolobus acidocaldarius. On the basis of this discovery, we undertook a comparative genomic analysis of the machineries for cell division and vesicle formation in Archaea. Archaea possess at least three distinct membrane remodelling systems: the FtsZ-based bacterial-type system, the ESCRT-III-based eukaryote-like system and a putative novel system that uses an archaeal actin-related protein. Many archaeal genomes encode assortments of components from different systems. Evolutionary reconstruction from these findings suggests that the last common ancestor of the extant Archaea possessed a complex membrane remodelling apparatus, different components of which were lost during subsequent evolution of archaeal lineages. By contrast, eukaryotes seem to have inherited all three ancestral systems.
PMCID: PMC3293450  PMID: 20818414
12.  Defense Islands in Bacterial and Archaeal Genomes and Prediction of Novel Defense Systems ▿†‡ 
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(21):6039-6056.
The arms race between cellular life forms and viruses is a major driving force of evolution. A substantial fraction of bacterial and archaeal genomes is dedicated to antivirus defense. We analyzed the distribution of defense genes and typical mobilome components (such as viral and transposon genes) in bacterial and archaeal genomes and demonstrated statistically significant clustering of antivirus defense systems and mobile genes and elements in genomic islands. The defense islands are enriched in putative operons and contain numerous overrepresented gene families. A detailed sequence analysis of the proteins encoded by genes in these families shows that many of them are diverged variants of known defense system components, whereas others show features, such as characteristic operonic organization, that are suggestive of novel defense systems. Thus, genomic islands provide abundant material for the experimental study of bacterial and archaeal antivirus defense. Except for the CRISPR-Cas systems, different classes of defense systems, in particular toxin-antitoxin and restriction-modification systems, show nonrandom clustering in defense islands. It remains unclear to what extent these associations reflect functional cooperation between different defense systems and to what extent the islands are genomic “sinks” that accumulate diverse nonessential genes, particularly those acquired via horizontal gene transfer. The characteristics of defense islands resemble those of mobilome islands. Defense and mobilome genes are nonrandomly associated in islands, suggesting nonadaptive evolution of the islands via a preferential attachment-like mechanism underpinned by the addictive properties of defense systems such as toxins-antitoxins and an important role of horizontal mobility in the evolution of these islands.
PMCID: PMC3194920  PMID: 21908672
13.  Abundance of type I toxin–antitoxin systems in bacteria: searches for new candidates and discovery of novel families 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(11):3743-3759.
Small, hydrophobic proteins whose synthesis is repressed by small RNAs (sRNAs), denoted type I toxin–antitoxin modules, were first discovered on plasmids where they regulate plasmid stability, but were subsequently found on a few bacterial chromosomes. We used exhaustive PSI-BLAST and TBLASTN searches across 774 bacterial genomes to identify homologs of known type I toxins. These searches substantially expanded the collection of predicted type I toxins, revealed homology of the Ldr and Fst toxins, and suggested that type I toxin–antitoxin loci are not spread by horizontal gene transfer. To discover novel type I toxin–antitoxin systems, we developed a set of search parameters based on characteristics of known loci including the presence of tandem repeats and clusters of charged and bulky amino acids at the C-termini of short proteins containing predicted transmembrane regions. We detected sRNAs for three predicted toxins from enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis, and showed that two of the respective proteins indeed are toxic when overexpressed. We also demonstrated that the local free-energy minima of RNA folding can be used to detect the positions of the sRNA genes. Our results suggest that type I toxin–antitoxin modules are much more widely distributed among bacteria than previously appreciated.
PMCID: PMC2887945  PMID: 20156992
14.  The Deep Archaeal Roots of Eukaryotes 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2008;25(8):1619-1630.
The set of conserved eukaryotic protein-coding genes includes distinct subsets one of which appears to be most closely related to and, by inference, derived from archaea, whereas another one appears to be of bacterial, possibly, endosymbiotic origin. The “archaeal” genes of eukaryotes, primarily, encode components of information-processing systems, whereas the “bacterial” genes are predominantly operational. The precise nature of the archaeo–eukaryotic relationship remains uncertain, and it has been variously argued that eukaryotic informational genes evolved from the homologous genes of Euryarchaeota or Crenarchaeota (the major branches of extant archaea) or that the origin of eukaryotes lies outside the known diversity of archaea. We describe a comprehensive set of 355 eukaryotic genes of apparent archaeal origin identified through ortholog detection and phylogenetic analysis. Phylogenetic hypothesis testing using constrained trees, combined with a systematic search for shared derived characters in the form of homologous inserts in conserved proteins, indicate that, for the majority of these genes, the preferred tree topology is one with the eukaryotic branch placed outside the extant diversity of archaea although small subsets of genes show crenarchaeal and euryarchaeal affinities. Thus, the archaeal genes in eukaryotes appear to descend from a distinct, ancient, and otherwise uncharacterized archaeal lineage that acquired some euryarchaeal and crenarchaeal genes via early horizontal gene transfer.
PMCID: PMC2464739  PMID: 18463089
archaea; eukaryotes; Euryarchaeota; Crenarchaeota; phylogenetic analysis
15.  Deinococcus geothermalis: The Pool of Extreme Radiation Resistance Genes Shrinks 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(9):e955.
Bacteria of the genus Deinococcus are extremely resistant to ionizing radiation (IR), ultraviolet light (UV) and desiccation. The mesophile Deinococcus radiodurans was the first member of this group whose genome was completely sequenced. Analysis of the genome sequence of D. radiodurans, however, failed to identify unique DNA repair systems. To further delineate the genes underlying the resistance phenotypes, we report the whole-genome sequence of a second Deinococcus species, the thermophile Deinococcus geothermalis, which at its optimal growth temperature is as resistant to IR, UV and desiccation as D. radiodurans, and a comparative analysis of the two Deinococcus genomes. Many D. radiodurans genes previously implicated in resistance, but for which no sensitive phenotype was observed upon disruption, are absent in D. geothermalis. In contrast, most D. radiodurans genes whose mutants displayed a radiation-sensitive phenotype in D. radiodurans are conserved in D. geothermalis. Supporting the existence of a Deinococcus radiation response regulon, a common palindromic DNA motif was identified in a conserved set of genes associated with resistance, and a dedicated transcriptional regulator was predicted. We present the case that these two species evolved essentially the same diverse set of gene families, and that the extreme stress-resistance phenotypes of the Deinococcus lineage emerged progressively by amassing cell-cleaning systems from different sources, but not by acquisition of novel DNA repair systems. Our reconstruction of the genomic evolution of the Deinococcus-Thermus phylum indicates that the corresponding set of enzymes proliferated mainly in the common ancestor of Deinococcus. Results of the comparative analysis weaken the arguments for a role of higher-order chromosome alignment structures in resistance; more clearly define and substantially revise downward the number of uncharacterized genes that might participate in DNA repair and contribute to resistance; and strengthen the case for a role in survival of systems involved in manganese and iron homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC1978522  PMID: 17895995
16.  Evolutionary Genomics of Lactic Acid Bacteria▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;189(4):1199-1208.
PMCID: PMC1797341  PMID: 17085562
17.  Ancestral paralogs and pseudoparalogs and their role in the emergence of the eukaryotic cell 
Nucleic Acids Research  2005;33(14):4626-4638.
Gene duplication is a crucial mechanism of evolutionary innovation. A substantial fraction of eukaryotic genomes consists of paralogous gene families. We assess the extent of ancestral paralogy, which dates back to the last common ancestor of all eukaryotes, and examine the origins of the ancestral paralogs and their potential roles in the emergence of the eukaryotic cell complexity. A parsimonious reconstruction of ancestral gene repertoires shows that 4137 orthologous gene sets in the last eukaryotic common ancestor (LECA) map back to 2150 orthologous sets in the hypothetical first eukaryotic common ancestor (FECA) [paralogy quotient (PQ) of 1.92]. Analogous reconstructions show significantly lower levels of paralogy in prokaryotes, 1.19 for archaea and 1.25 for bacteria. The only functional class of eukaryotic proteins with a significant excess of paralogous clusters over the mean includes molecular chaperones and proteins with related functions. Almost all genes in this category underwent multiple duplications during early eukaryotic evolution. In structural terms, the most prominent sets of paralogs are superstructure-forming proteins with repetitive domains, such as WD-40 and TPR. In addition to the true ancestral paralogs which evolved via duplication at the onset of eukaryotic evolution, numerous pseudoparalogs were detected, i.e. homologous genes that apparently were acquired by early eukaryotes via different routes, including horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from diverse bacteria. The results of this study demonstrate a major increase in the level of gene paralogy as a hallmark of the early evolution of eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC1187821  PMID: 16106042
18.  Identification and Functional Verification of Archaeal-Type Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase, a Missing Link in Archaeal Central Carbohydrate Metabolism 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(22):7754-7762.
Despite the fact that phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PEPC) activity has been measured and in some cases even purified from some Archaea, the gene responsible for this activity has not been elucidated. Using sensitive sequence comparison methods, we detected a highly conserved, uncharacterized archaeal gene family that is distantly related to the catalytic core of the canonical PEPC. To verify the predicted function of this archaeal gene family, we cloned a representative from the hyperthermophilic acidophile Sulfolobus solfataricus and functionally produced the corresponding enzyme as a fusion with the Escherichia coli maltose-binding protein. The purified fusion protein indeed displayed highly thermostable PEPC activity. The structural and biochemical properties of the characterized archaeal-type PEPC (atPEPC) from S. solfataricus are in good agreement with previously reported biochemical analyses of other archaeal PEPC enzymes. The newly identified atPEPC, with its distinct properties, constitutes yet another example of the versatility of the enzymes of the central carbon metabolic pathways in the archaeal domain.
PMCID: PMC524890  PMID: 15516590
19.  Comparative genomics of the FtsK–HerA superfamily of pumping ATPases: implications for the origins of chromosome segregation, cell division and viral capsid packaging 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(17):5260-5279.
Recently, it has been shown that a predicted P-loop ATPase (the HerA or MlaA protein), which is highly conserved in archaea and also present in many bacteria but absent in eukaryotes, has a bidirectional helicase activity and forms hexameric rings similar to those described for the TrwB ATPase. In this study, the FtsK–HerA superfamily of P-loop ATPases, in which the HerA clade comprises one of the major branches, is analyzed in detail. We show that, in addition to the FtsK and HerA clades, this superfamily includes several families of characterized or predicted ATPases which are predominantly involved in extrusion of DNA and peptides through membrane pores. The DNA-packaging ATPases of various bacteriophages and eukaryotic double-stranded DNA viruses also belong to the FtsK–HerA superfamily. The FtsK protein is the essential bacterial ATPase that is responsible for the correct segregation of daughter chromosomes during cell division. The structural and evolutionary relationship between HerA and FtsK and the nearly perfect complementarity of their phyletic distributions suggest that HerA similarly mediates DNA pumping into the progeny cells during archaeal cell division. It appears likely that the HerA and FtsK families diverged concomitantly with the archaeal–bacterial division and that the last universal common ancestor of modern life forms had an ancestral DNA-pumping ATPase that gave rise to these families. Furthermore, the relationship of these cellular proteins with the packaging ATPases of diverse DNA viruses suggests that a common DNA pumping mechanism might be operational in both cellular and viral genome segregation. The herA gene forms a highly conserved operon with the gene for the NurA nuclease and, in many archaea, also with the orthologs of eukaryotic double-strand break repair proteins MRE11 and Rad50. HerA is predicted to function in a complex with these proteins in DNA pumping and repair of double-stranded breaks introduced during this process and, possibly, also during DNA replication. Extensive comparative analysis of the ‘genomic context’ combined with in-depth sequence analysis led to the prediction of numerous previously unnoticed nucleases of the NurA superfamily, including a specific version that is likely to be the endonuclease component of a novel restriction-modification system. This analysis also led to the identification of previously uncharacterized nucleases, such as a novel predicted nuclease of the Sir2-type Rossmann fold, and phosphatases of the HAD superfamily that are likely to function as partners of the FtsK–HerA superfamily ATPases.
PMCID: PMC521647  PMID: 15466593
20.  Congruent evolution of different classes of non-coding DNA in prokaryotic genomes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2002;30(19):4264-4271.
Prokaryotic genomes are considered to be ‘wall-to-wall’ genomes, which consist largely of genes for proteins and structural RNAs, with only a small fraction of the genomic DNA allotted to intergenic regions, which are thought to typically contain regulatory signals. The majority of bacterial and archaeal genomes contain 6–14% non-coding DNA. Significant positive correlations were detected between the fraction of non-coding DNA and inter- and intra-operonic distances, suggesting that different classes of non-coding DNA evolve congruently. In contrast, no correlation was found between any of these characteristics of non-coding sequences and the number of genes or genome size. Thus, the non-coding regions and the gene sets in prokaryotes seem to evolve in different regimes. The evolution of non-coding regions appears to be determined primarily by the selective pressure to minimize the amount of non-functional DNA, while maintaining essential regulatory signals, because of which the content of non-coding DNA in different genomes is relatively uniform and intra- and inter-operonic non-coding regions evolve congruently. In contrast, the gene set is optimized for the particular environmental niche of the given microbe, which results in the lack of correlation between the gene number and the characteristics of non-coding regions.
PMCID: PMC140549  PMID: 12364605
21.  Connected gene neighborhoods in prokaryotic genomes 
Nucleic Acids Research  2002;30(10):2212-2223.
A computational method was developed for delineating connected gene neighborhoods in bacterial and archaeal genomes. These gene neighborhoods are not typically present, in their entirety, in any single genome, but are held together by overlapping, partially conserved gene arrays. The procedure was applied to comparing the orders of orthologous genes, which were extracted from the database of Clusters of Orthologous Groups of proteins (COGs), in 31 prokaryotic genomes and resulted in the identification of 188 clusters of gene arrays, which included 1001 of 2890 COGs. These clusters were projected onto actual genomes to produce extended neighborhoods including additional genes, which are adjacent to the genes from the clusters and are transcribed in the same direction, which resulted in a total of 2387 COGs being included in the neighborhoods. Most of the neighborhoods consist predominantly of genes united by a coherent functional theme, but also include a minority of genes without an obvious functional connection to the main theme. We hypothesize that although some of the latter genes might have unsuspected roles, others are maintained within gene arrays because of the advantage of expression at a level that is typical of the given neighborhood. We designate this phenomenon ‘genomic hitchhiking’. The largest neighborhood includes 79 genes (COGs) and consists of overlapping, rearranged ribosomal protein superoperons; apparent genome hitchhiking is particularly typical of this neighborhood and other neighborhoods that consist of genes coding for translation machinery components. Several neighborhoods involve previously undetected connections between genes, allowing new functional predictions. Gene neighborhoods appear to evolve via complex rearrangement, with different combinations of genes from a neighborhood fixed in different lineages.
PMCID: PMC115289  PMID: 12000841
22.  A DNA repair system specific for thermophilic Archaea and bacteria predicted by genomic context analysis 
Nucleic Acids Research  2002;30(2):482-496.
During a systematic analysis of conserved gene context in prokaryotic genomes, a previously undetected, complex, partially conserved neighborhood consisting of more than 20 genes was discovered in most Archaea (with the exception of Thermoplasma acidophilum and Halobacterium NRC-1) and some bacteria, including the hyperthermophiles Thermotoga maritima and Aquifex aeolicus. The gene composition and gene order in this neighborhood vary greatly between species, but all versions have a stable, conserved core that consists of five genes. One of the core genes encodes a predicted DNA helicase, often fused to a predicted HD-superfamily hydrolase, and another encodes a RecB family exonuclease; three core genes remain uncharacterized, but one of these might encode a nuclease of a new family. Two more genes that belong to this neighborhood and are present in most of the genomes in which the neighborhood was detected encode, respectively, a predicted HD-superfamily hydrolase (possibly a nuclease) of a distinct family and a predicted, novel DNA polymerase. Another characteristic feature of this neighborhood is the expansion of a superfamily of paralogous, uncharacterized proteins, which are encoded by at least 20–30% of the genes in the neighborhood. The functional features of the proteins encoded in this neighborhood suggest that they comprise a previously undetected DNA repair system, which, to our knowledge, is the first repair system largely specific for thermophiles to be identified. This hypothetical repair system might be functionally analogous to the bacterial–eukaryotic system of translesion, mutagenic repair whose central components are DNA polymerases of the UmuC-DinB-Rad30-Rev1 superfamily, which typically are missing in thermophiles.
PMCID: PMC99818  PMID: 11788711
23.  Genome Sequence and Comparative Analysis of the Solvent-Producing Bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(16):4823-4838.
The genome sequence of the solvent-producing bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum ATCC 824 has been determined by the shotgun approach. The genome consists of a 3.94-Mb chromosome and a 192-kb megaplasmid that contains the majority of genes responsible for solvent production. Comparison of C. acetobutylicum to Bacillus subtilis reveals significant local conservation of gene order, which has not been seen in comparisons of other genomes with similar, or, in some cases closer, phylogenetic proximity. This conservation allows the prediction of many previously undetected operons in both bacteria. However, the C. acetobutylicum genome also contains a significant number of predicted operons that are shared with distantly related bacteria and archaea but not with B. subtilis. Phylogenetic analysis is compatible with the dissemination of such operons by horizontal transfer. The enzymes of the solventogenesis pathway and of the cellulosome of C. acetobutylicum comprise a new set of metabolic capacities not previously represented in the collection of complete genomes. These enzymes show a complex pattern of evolutionary affinities, emphasizing the role of lateral gene exchange in the evolution of the unique metabolic profile of the bacterium. Many of the sporulation genes identified in B. subtilis are missing in C. acetobutylicum, which suggests major differences in the sporulation process. Thus, comparative analysis reveals both significant conservation of the genome organization and pronounced differences in many systems that reflect unique adaptive strategies of the two gram-positive bacteria.
PMCID: PMC99537  PMID: 11466286
24.  Genome of the Extremely Radiation-Resistant Bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans Viewed from the Perspective of Comparative Genomics 
The bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans shows remarkable resistance to a range of damage caused by ionizing radiation, desiccation, UV radiation, oxidizing agents, and electrophilic mutagens. D. radiodurans is best known for its extreme resistance to ionizing radiation; not only can it grow continuously in the presence of chronic radiation (6 kilorads/h), but also it can survive acute exposures to gamma radiation exceeding 1,500 kilorads without dying or undergoing induced mutation. These characteristics were the impetus for sequencing the genome of D. radiodurans and the ongoing development of its use for bioremediation of radioactive wastes. Although it is known that these multiple resistance phenotypes stem from efficient DNA repair processes, the mechanisms underlying these extraordinary repair capabilities remain poorly understood. In this work we present an extensive comparative sequence analysis of the Deinococcus genome. Deinococcus is the first representative with a completely sequenced genome from a distinct bacterial lineage of extremophiles, the Thermus-Deinococcus group. Phylogenetic tree analysis, combined with the identification of several synapomorphies between Thermus and Deinococcus, supports the hypothesis that it is an ancient group with no clear affinities to any of the other known bacterial lineages. Distinctive features of the Deinococcus genome as well as features shared with other free-living bacteria were revealed by comparison of its proteome to the collection of clusters of orthologous groups of proteins. Analysis of paralogs in Deinococcus has revealed several unique protein families. In addition, specific expansions of several other families including phosphatases, proteases, acyltransferases, and Nudix family pyrophosphohydrolases were detected. Genes that potentially affect DNA repair and recombination and stress responses were investigated in detail. Some proteins appear to have been horizontally transferred from eukaryotes and are not present in other bacteria. For example, three proteins homologous to plant desiccation resistance proteins were identified, and these are particularly interesting because of the correlation between desiccation and radiation resistance. Compared to other bacteria, the D. radiodurans genome is enriched in repetitive sequences, namely, IS-like transposons and small intergenic repeats. In combination, these observations suggest that several different biological mechanisms contribute to the multiple DNA repair-dependent phenotypes of this organism.
PMCID: PMC99018  PMID: 11238985
25.  Holliday junction resolvases and related nucleases: identification of new families, phyletic distribution and evolutionary trajectories 
Nucleic Acids Research  2000;28(18):3417-3432.
Holliday junction resolvases (HJRs) are key enzymes of DNA recombination. A detailed computer analysis of the structural and evolutionary relationships of HJRs and related nucleases suggests that the HJR function has evolved independently from at least four distinct structural folds, namely RNase H, endonuclease, endonuclease VII–colicin E and RusA. The endonuclease fold, whose structural prototypes are the phage λ exonuclease, the very short patch repair nuclease (Vsr) and type II restriction enzymes, is shown to encompass by far a greater diversity of nucleases than previously suspected. This fold unifies archaeal HJRs, repair nucleases such as RecB and Vsr, restriction enzymes and a variety of predicted nucleases whose specific activities remain to be determined. Within the RNase H fold a new family of predicted HJRs, which is nearly ubiquitous in bacteria, was discovered, in addition to the previously characterized RuvC family. The proteins of this family, typified by Escherichia coli YqgF, are likely to function as an alternative to RuvC in most bacteria, but could be the principal HJRs in low-GC Gram-positive bacteria and Aquifex. Endonuclease VII of phage T4 is shown to serve as a structural template for many nucleases, including McrA and other type II restriction enzymes. Together with colicin E7, endonuclease VII defines a distinct metal-dependent nuclease fold. As a result of this analysis, the principal HJRs are now known or confidently predicted for all bacteria and archaea whose genomes have been completely sequenced, with many species encoding multiple potential HJRs. Horizontal gene transfer, lineage-specific gene loss and gene family expansion, and non-orthologous gene displacement seem to have been major forces in the evolution of HJRs and related nucleases. A remarkable case of displacement is seen in the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, which does not possess any of the typical HJRs, but instead encodes, in its chromosome and each of the linear plasmids, members of the λ exonuclease family predicted to function as HJRs. The diversity of HJRs and related nucleases in bacteria and archaea contrasts with their near absence in eukaryotes. The few detected eukaryotic representatives of the endonuclease fold and the RNase H fold have probably been acquired from bacteria via horizontal gene transfer. The identity of the principal HJR(s) involved in recombination in eukaryotes remains uncertain; this function could be performed by topoisomerase IB or by a novel, so far undetected, class of enzymes. Likely HJRs and related nucleases were identified in the genomes of numerous bacterial and eukaryotic DNA viruses. Gene flow between viral and cellular genomes has probably played a major role in the evolution of this class of enzymes. This analysis resulted in the prediction of numerous previously unnoticed nucleases, some of which are likely to be new restriction enzymes.
PMCID: PMC110722  PMID: 10982859

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