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1.  Evolution of AANAT: expansion of the gene family in the cephalochordate amphioxus 
The arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT) family is divided into structurally distinct vertebrate and non-vertebrate groups. Expression of vertebrate AANATs is limited primarily to the pineal gland and retina, where it plays a role in controlling the circadian rhythm in melatonin synthesis. Based on the role melatonin plays in biological timing, AANAT has been given the moniker "the Timezyme". Non-vertebrate AANATs, which occur in fungi and protists, are thought to play a role in detoxification and are not known to be associated with a specific tissue.
We have found that the amphioxus genome contains seven AANATs, all having non-vertebrate type features. This and the absence of AANATs from the genomes of Hemichordates and Urochordates support the view that a major transition in the evolution of the AANATs may have occurred at the onset of vertebrate evolution. Analysis of the expression pattern of the two most structurally divergent AANATs in Branchiostoma lanceolatum (bl) revealed that they are expressed early in development and also in the adult at low levels throughout the body, possibly associated with the neural tube. Expression is clearly not exclusively associated with the proposed analogs of the pineal gland and retina. blAANAT activity is influenced by environmental lighting, but light/dark differences do not persist under constant light or constant dark conditions, indicating they are not circadian in nature. bfAANATα and bfAANATδ' have unusually alkaline (> 9.0) optimal pH, more than two pH units higher than that of vertebrate AANATs.
The substrate selectivity profiles of bfAANATα and δ' are relatively broad, including alkylamines, arylalkylamines and diamines, in contrast to vertebrate forms, which selectively acetylate serotonin and other arylalkylamines. Based on these features, it appears that amphioxus AANATs could play several roles, including detoxification and biogenic amine inactivation. The presence of seven AANATs in amphioxus genome supports the view that arylalkylamine and polyamine acetylation is important to the biology of this organism and that these genes evolved in response to specific pressures related to requirements for amine acetylation.
PMCID: PMC2897805  PMID: 20500864
2.  Non-homologous isofunctional enzymes: A systematic analysis of alternative solutions in enzyme evolution 
Biology Direct  2010;5:31.
Evolutionarily unrelated proteins that catalyze the same biochemical reactions are often referred to as analogous - as opposed to homologous - enzymes. The existence of numerous alternative, non-homologous enzyme isoforms presents an interesting evolutionary problem; it also complicates genome-based reconstruction of the metabolic pathways in a variety of organisms. In 1998, a systematic search for analogous enzymes resulted in the identification of 105 Enzyme Commission (EC) numbers that included two or more proteins without detectable sequence similarity to each other, including 34 EC nodes where proteins were known (or predicted) to have distinct structural folds, indicating independent evolutionary origins. In the past 12 years, many putative non-homologous isofunctional enzymes were identified in newly sequenced genomes. In addition, efforts in structural genomics resulted in a vastly improved structural coverage of proteomes, providing for definitive assessment of (non)homologous relationships between proteins.
We report the results of a comprehensive search for non-homologous isofunctional enzymes (NISE) that yielded 185 EC nodes with two or more experimentally characterized - or predicted - structurally unrelated proteins. Of these NISE sets, only 74 were from the original 1998 list. Structural assignments of the NISE show over-representation of proteins with the TIM barrel fold and the nucleotide-binding Rossmann fold. From the functional perspective, the set of NISE is enriched in hydrolases, particularly carbohydrate hydrolases, and in enzymes involved in defense against oxidative stress.
These results indicate that at least some of the non-homologous isofunctional enzymes were recruited relatively recently from enzyme families that are active against related substrates and are sufficiently flexible to accommodate changes in substrate specificity.
This article was reviewed by Andrei Osterman, Keith F. Tipton (nominated by Martijn Huynen) and Igor B. Zhulin. For the full reviews, go to the Reviewers' comments section.
PMCID: PMC2876114  PMID: 20433725
3.  Encapsulated in silica: genome, proteome and physiology of the thermophilic bacterium Anoxybacillus flavithermus WK1 
Genome Biology  2008;9(11):R161.
Sequencing of the complete genome of Anoxybacillus flavithermus reveals enzymes that are required for silica adaptation and biofilm formation.
Gram-positive bacteria of the genus Anoxybacillus have been found in diverse thermophilic habitats, such as geothermal hot springs and manure, and in processed foods such as gelatin and milk powder. Anoxybacillus flavithermus is a facultatively anaerobic bacterium found in super-saturated silica solutions and in opaline silica sinter. The ability of A. flavithermus to grow in super-saturated silica solutions makes it an ideal subject to study the processes of sinter formation, which might be similar to the biomineralization processes that occurred at the dawn of life.
We report here the complete genome sequence of A. flavithermus strain WK1, isolated from the waste water drain at the Wairakei geothermal power station in New Zealand. It consists of a single chromosome of 2,846,746 base pairs and is predicted to encode 2,863 proteins. In silico genome analysis identified several enzymes that could be involved in silica adaptation and biofilm formation, and their predicted functions were experimentally validated in vitro. Proteomic analysis confirmed the regulation of biofilm-related proteins and crucial enzymes for the synthesis of long-chain polyamines as constituents of silica nanospheres.
Microbial fossils preserved in silica and silica sinters are excellent objects for studying ancient life, a new paleobiological frontier. An integrated analysis of the A. flavithermus genome and proteome provides the first glimpse of metabolic adaptation during silicification and sinter formation. Comparative genome analysis suggests an extensive gene loss in the Anoxybacillus/Geobacillus branch after its divergence from other bacilli.
PMCID: PMC2614493  PMID: 19014707
4.  Complete genome sequence of the extremely acidophilic methanotroph isolate V4, Methylacidiphilum infernorum, a representative of the bacterial phylum Verrucomicrobia 
Biology Direct  2008;3:26.
The phylum Verrucomicrobia is a widespread but poorly characterized bacterial clade. Although cultivation-independent approaches detect representatives of this phylum in a wide range of environments, including soils, seawater, hot springs and human gastrointestinal tract, only few have been isolated in pure culture. We have recently reported cultivation and initial characterization of an extremely acidophilic methanotrophic member of the Verrucomicrobia, strain V4, isolated from the Hell's Gate geothermal area in New Zealand. Similar organisms were independently isolated from geothermal systems in Italy and Russia.
We report the complete genome sequence of strain V4, the first one from a representative of the Verrucomicrobia. Isolate V4, initially named "Methylokorus infernorum" (and recently renamed Methylacidiphilum infernorum) is an autotrophic bacterium with a streamlined genome of ~2.3 Mbp that encodes simple signal transduction pathways and has a limited potential for regulation of gene expression. Central metabolism of M. infernorum was reconstructed almost completely and revealed highly interconnected pathways of autotrophic central metabolism and modifications of C1-utilization pathways compared to other known methylotrophs. The M. infernorum genome does not encode tubulin, which was previously discovered in bacteria of the genus Prosthecobacter, or close homologs of any other signature eukaryotic proteins. Phylogenetic analysis of ribosomal proteins and RNA polymerase subunits unequivocally supports grouping Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia and Chlamydiae into a single clade, the PVC superphylum, despite dramatically different gene content in members of these three groups. Comparative-genomic analysis suggests that evolution of the M. infernorum lineage involved extensive horizontal gene exchange with a variety of bacteria. The genome of M. infernorum shows apparent adaptations for existence under extremely acidic conditions including a major upward shift in the isoelectric points of proteins.
The results of genome analysis of M. infernorum support the monophyly of the PVC superphylum. M. infernorum possesses a streamlined genome but seems to have acquired numerous genes including those for enzymes of methylotrophic pathways via horizontal gene transfer, in particular, from Proteobacteria.
This article was reviewed by John A. Fuerst, Ludmila Chistoserdova, and Radhey S. Gupta.
PMCID: PMC2474590  PMID: 18593465
5.  Comparative genomics of Thermus thermophilus and Deinococcus radiodurans: divergent routes of adaptation to thermophily and radiation resistance 
Thermus thermophilus and Deinococcus radiodurans belong to a distinct bacterial clade but have remarkably different phenotypes. T. thermophilus is a thermophile, which is relatively sensitive to ionizing radiation and desiccation, whereas D. radiodurans is a mesophile, which is highly radiation- and desiccation-resistant. Here we present an in-depth comparison of the genomes of these two related but differently adapted bacteria.
By reconstructing the evolution of Thermus and Deinococcus after the divergence from their common ancestor, we demonstrate a high level of post-divergence gene flux in both lineages. Various aspects of the adaptation to high temperature in Thermus can be attributed to horizontal gene transfer from archaea and thermophilic bacteria; many of the horizontally transferred genes are located on the single megaplasmid of Thermus. In addition, the Thermus lineage has lost a set of genes that are still present in Deinococcus and many other mesophilic bacteria but are not common among thermophiles. By contrast, Deinococcus seems to have acquired numerous genes related to stress response systems from various bacteria. A comparison of the distribution of orthologous genes among the four partitions of the Deinococcus genome and the two partitions of the Thermus genome reveals homology between the Thermus megaplasmid (pTT27) and Deinococcus megaplasmid (DR177).
After the radiation from their common ancestor, the Thermus and Deinococcus lineages have taken divergent paths toward their distinct lifestyles. In addition to extensive gene loss, Thermus seems to have acquired numerous genes from thermophiles, which likely was the decisive contribution to its thermophilic adaptation. By contrast, Deinococcus lost few genes but seems to have acquired many bacterial genes that apparently enhanced its ability to survive different kinds of environmental stresses. Notwithstanding the accumulation of horizontally transferred genes, we also show that the single megaplasmid of Thermus and the DR177 megaplasmid of Deinococcus are homologous and probably were inherited from the common ancestor of these bacteria.
PMCID: PMC1274311  PMID: 16242020
6.  Evolution of mosaic operons by horizontal gene transfer and gene displacement in situ 
Genome Biology  2003;4(9):R55.
Comparative genomics and phylogenetic analysis have been used to examine horizontal transfer of entire operons versus displacement of individual genes within operons by horizontally acquired orthologs and independent assembly of the same or similar operons from genes with different phylogenetic affinities.
Shuffling and disruption of operons and horizontal gene transfer are major contributions to the new, dynamic view of prokaryotic evolution. Under the 'selfish operon' hypothesis, operons are viewed as mobile genetic entities that are constantly disseminated via horizontal gene transfer, although their retention could be favored by the advantage of coregulation of functionally linked genes. Here we apply comparative genomics and phylogenetic analysis to examine horizontal transfer of entire operons versus displacement of individual genes within operons by horizontally acquired orthologs and independent assembly of the same or similar operons from genes with different phylogenetic affinities.
Since a substantial number of operons have been identified experimentally in only a few model bacteria, evolutionarily conserved gene strings were analyzed as surrogates of operons. The phylogenetic affinities within these predicted operons were assessed first by sequence similarity analysis and then by phylogenetic analysis, including statistical tests of tree topology. Numerous cases of apparent horizontal transfer of entire operons were detected. However, it was shown that apparent horizontal transfer of individual genes or arrays of genes within operons is not uncommon either and results in xenologous gene displacement in situ, that is, displacement of an ancestral gene by a horizontally transferred ortholog from a taxonomically distant organism without change of the local gene organization. On rarer occasions, operons might have evolved via independent assembly, in part from horizontally acquired genes.
The discovery of in situ gene displacement shows that combination of rampant horizontal gene transfer with selection for preservation of operon structure provides for events in prokaryotic evolution that, a priori, seem improbable. These findings also emphasize that not all aspects of operon evolution are selfish, with operon integrity maintained by purifying selection at the organism level.
PMCID: PMC193655  PMID: 12952534

Results 1-6 (6)