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1.  The TyrA family of aromatic-pathway dehydrogenases in phylogenetic context 
BMC Biology  2005;3:13.
The TyrA protein family includes members that catalyze two dehydrogenase reactions in distinct pathways leading to L-tyrosine and a third reaction that is not part of tyrosine biosynthesis. Family members share a catalytic core region of about 30 kDa, where inhibitors operate competitively by acting as substrate mimics. This protein family typifies many that are challenging for bioinformatic analysis because of relatively modest sequence conservation and small size.
Phylogenetic relationships of TyrA domains were evaluated in the context of combinatorial patterns of specificity for the two substrates, as well as the presence or absence of a variety of fusions. An interactive tool is provided for prediction of substrate specificity. Interactive alignments for a suite of catalytic-core TyrA domains of differing specificity are also provided to facilitate phylogenetic analysis. tyrA membership in apparent operons (or supraoperons) was examined, and patterns of conserved synteny in relationship to organismal positions on the 16S rRNA tree were ascertained for members of the domain Bacteria. A number of aromatic-pathway genes (hisHb, aroF, aroQ) have fused with tyrA, and it must be more than coincidental that the free-standing counterparts of all of the latter fused genes exhibit a distinct trace of syntenic association.
We propose that the ancestral TyrA dehydrogenase had broad specificity for both the cyclohexadienyl and pyridine nucleotide substrates. Indeed, TyrA proteins of this type persist today, but it is also common to find instances of narrowed substrate specificities, as well as of acquisition via gene fusion of additional catalytic domains or regulatory domains. In some clades a qualitative change associated with either narrowed substrate specificity or gene fusion has produced an evolutionary "jump" in the vertical genealogy of TyrA homologs. The evolutionary history of gene organizations that include tyrA can be deduced in genome assemblages of sufficiently close relatives, the most fruitful opportunities currently being in the Proteobacteria. The evolution of TyrA proteins within the broader context of how their regulation evolved and to what extent TyrA co-evolved with other genes as common members of aromatic-pathway regulons is now feasible as an emerging topic of ongoing inquiry.
PMCID: PMC1173090  PMID: 15888209
2.  Inter-genomic displacement via lateral gene transfer of bacterial trp operons in an overall context of vertical genealogy 
BMC Biology  2004;2:15.
The growing conviction that lateral gene transfer plays a significant role in prokaryote genealogy opens up a need for comprehensive evaluations of gene-enzyme systems on a case-by-case basis. Genes of tryptophan biosynthesis are frequently organized as whole-pathway operons, an attribute that is expected to facilitate multi-gene transfer in a single step. We have asked whether events of lateral gene transfer are sufficient to have obscured our ability to track the vertical genealogy that underpins tryptophan biosynthesis.
In 47 complete-genome Bacteria, the genes encoding the seven catalytic domains that participate in primary tryptophan biosynthesis were distinguished from any paralogs or xenologs engaged in other specialized functions. A reliable list of orthologs with carefully ascertained functional roles has thus been assembled and should be valuable as an annotation resource. The protein domains associated with primary tryptophan biosynthesis were then concatenated, yielding single amino-acid sequence strings that represent the entire tryptophan pathway. Lateral gene transfer of several whole-pathway trp operons was demonstrated by use of phylogenetic analysis. Lateral gene transfer of partial-pathway trp operons was also shown, with newly recruited genes functioning either in primary biosynthesis (rarely) or specialized metabolism (more frequently).
(i) Concatenated tryptophan protein trees are congruent with 16S rRNA subtrees provided that the genomes represented are of sufficiently close phylogenetic spacing. There are currently seven tryptophan congruency groups in the Bacteria. Recognition of a succession of others can be expected in the near future, but ultimately these should coalesce to a single grouping that parallels the 16S rRNA tree (except for cases of lateral gene transfer). (ii) The vertical trace of evolution for tryptophan biosynthesis can be deduced. The daunting complexities engendered by paralogy, xenology, and idiosyncrasies of nomenclature at this point in time have necessitated an expert-assisted manual effort to achieve a correct analysis. Once recognized and sorted out, paralogy and xenology can be viewed as features that enrich evolutionary histories.
PMCID: PMC471576  PMID: 15214963

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