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1.  Parallel re-modeling of EF-1α function: divergent EF-1α genes co-occur with EFL genes in diverse distantly related eukaryotes 
Elongation factor-1α (EF-1α) and elongation factor-like (EFL) proteins are functionally homologous to one another, and are core components of the eukaryotic translation machinery. The patchy distribution of the two elongation factor types across global eukaryotic phylogeny is suggestive of a ‘differential loss’ hypothesis that assumes that EF-1α and EFL were present in the most recent common ancestor of eukaryotes followed by independent differential losses of one of the two factors in the descendant lineages. To date, however, just one diatom and one fungus have been found to have both EF-1α and EFL (dual-EF-containing species).
In this study, we characterized 35 new EF-1α/EFL sequences from phylogenetically diverse eukaryotes. In so doing we identified 11 previously unreported dual-EF-containing species from diverse eukaryote groups including the Stramenopiles, Apusomonadida, Goniomonadida, and Fungi. Phylogenetic analyses suggested vertical inheritance of both genes in each of the dual-EF lineages. In the dual-EF-containing species we identified, the EF-1α genes appeared to be highly divergent in sequence and suppressed at the transcriptional level compared to the co-occurring EFL genes.
According to the known EF-1α/EFL distribution, the differential loss process should have occurred independently in diverse eukaryotic lineages, and more dual-EF-containing species remain unidentified. We predict that dual-EF-containing species retain the divergent EF-1α homologues only for a sub-set of the original functions. As the dual-EF-containing species are distantly related to each other, we propose that independent re-modelling of EF-1α function took place in multiple branches in the tree of eukaryotes.
PMCID: PMC3699394  PMID: 23800323
Diatoms; Differential Gene Loss; EF-1α; EFL; Functional Remodeling; Goniomonas; Pythium; Spizellomyces; Thecamonas
2.  A class frequency mixture model that adjusts for site-specific amino acid frequencies and improves inference of protein phylogeny 
Widely used substitution models for proteins, such as the Jones-Taylor-Thornton (JTT) or Whelan and Goldman (WAG) models, are based on empirical amino acid interchange matrices estimated from databases of protein alignments that incorporate the average amino acid frequencies of the data set under examination (e.g JTT + F). Variation in the evolutionary process between sites is typically modelled by a rates-across-sites distribution such as the gamma (Γ) distribution. However, sites in proteins also vary in the kinds of amino acid interchanges that are favoured, a feature that is ignored by standard empirical substitution matrices. Here we examine the degree to which the pattern of evolution at sites differs from that expected based on empirical amino acid substitution models and evaluate the impact of these deviations on phylogenetic estimation.
We analyzed 21 large protein alignments with two statistical tests designed to detect deviation of site-specific amino acid distributions from data simulated under the standard empirical substitution model: JTT+ F + Γ. We found that the number of states at a given site is, on average, smaller and the frequencies of these states are less uniform than expected based on a JTT + F + Γ substitution model. With a four-taxon example, we show that phylogenetic estimation under the JTT + F + Γ model is seriously biased by a long-branch attraction artefact if the data are simulated under a model utilizing the observed site-specific amino acid frequencies from an alignment. Principal components analyses indicate the existence of at least four major site-specific frequency classes in these 21 protein alignments. Using a mixture model with these four separate classes of site-specific state frequencies plus a fifth class of global frequencies (the JTT + cF + Γ model), significant improvements in model fit for real data sets can be achieved. This simple mixture model also reduces the long-branch attraction problem, as shown by simulations and analyses of a real phylogenomic data set.
Protein families display site-specific evolutionary dynamics that are ignored by standard protein phylogenetic models. Accurate estimation of protein phylogenies requires models that accommodate the heterogeneity in the evolutionary process across sites. To this end, we have implemented a class frequency mixture model (cF) in a freely available program called QmmRAxML for phylogenetic estimation.
PMCID: PMC2628903  PMID: 19087270
3.  Molecular phylogeny of diplomonads and enteromonads based on SSU rRNA, alpha-tubulin and HSP90 genes: Implications for the evolutionary history of the double karyomastigont of diplomonads 
Fornicata is a relatively recently established group of protists that includes the diplokaryotic diplomonads (which have two similar nuclei per cell), and the monokaryotic enteromonads, retortamonads and Carpediemonas, with the more typical one nucleus per cell. The monophyly of the group was confirmed by molecular phylogenetic studies, but neither the internal phylogeny nor its position on the eukaryotic tree has been clearly resolved.
Here we have introduced data for three genes (SSU rRNA, α-tubulin and HSP90) with a wide taxonomic sampling of Fornicata, including ten isolates of enteromonads, representing the genera Trimitus and Enteromonas, and a new undescribed enteromonad genus. The diplomonad sequences formed two main clades in individual gene and combined gene analyses, with Giardia (and Octomitus) on one side of the basal divergence and Spironucleus, Hexamita and Trepomonas on the other. Contrary to earlier evolutionary scenarios, none of the studied enteromonads appeared basal to diplokaryotic diplomonads. Instead, the enteromonad isolates were all robustly situated within the second of the two diplomonad clades. Furthermore, our analyses suggested that enteromonads do not constitute a monophyletic group, and enteromonad monophyly was statistically rejected in 'approximately unbiased' tests of the combined gene data.
We suggest that all higher taxa intended to unite multiple enteromonad genera be abandoned, that Trimitus and Enteromonas be considered as part of Hexamitinae, and that the term 'enteromonads' be used in a strictly utilitarian sense. Our result suggests either that the diplokaryotic condition characteristic of diplomonads arose several times independently, or that the monokaryotic cell of enteromonads originated several times independently by secondary reduction from the diplokaryotic state. Both scenarios are evolutionarily complex. More comparative data on the similarity of the genomes of the two nuclei of diplomonads will be necessary to resolve which evolutionary scenario is more probable.
PMCID: PMC2496913  PMID: 18627633
4.  PROCOV: maximum likelihood estimation of protein phylogeny under covarion models and site-specific covarion pattern analysis 
The covarion hypothesis of molecular evolution holds that selective pressures on a given amino acid or nucleotide site are dependent on the identity of other sites in the molecule that change throughout time, resulting in changes of evolutionary rates of sites along the branches of a phylogenetic tree. At the sequence level, covarion-like evolution at a site manifests as conservation of nucleotide or amino acid states among some homologs where the states are not conserved in other homologs (or groups of homologs). Covarion-like evolution has been shown to relate to changes in functions at sites in different clades, and, if ignored, can adversely affect the accuracy of phylogenetic inference.
PROCOV (protein covarion analysis) is a software tool that implements a number of previously proposed covarion models of protein evolution for phylogenetic inference in a maximum likelihood framework. Several algorithmic and implementation improvements in this tool over previous versions make computationally expensive tree searches with covarion models more efficient and analyses of large phylogenomic data sets tractable. PROCOV can be used to identify covarion sites by comparing the site likelihoods under the covarion process to the corresponding site likelihoods under a rates-across-sites (RAS) process. Those sites with the greatest log-likelihood difference between a 'covarion' and an RAS process were found to be of functional or structural significance in a dataset of bacterial and eukaryotic elongation factors.
Covarion models implemented in PROCOV may be especially useful for phylogenetic estimation when ancient divergences between sequences have occurred and rates of evolution at sites are likely to have changed over the tree. It can also be used to study lineage-specific functional shifts in protein families that result in changes in the patterns of site variability among subtrees.
PMCID: PMC2758850  PMID: 19737395
5.  The glycolytic pathway of Trimastix pyriformis is an evolutionary mosaic 
Glycolysis and subsequent fermentation is the main energy source for many anaerobic organisms. The glycolytic pathway consists of ten enzymatic steps which appear to be universal amongst eukaryotes. However, it has been shown that the origins of these enzymes in specific eukaryote lineages can differ, and sometimes involve lateral gene transfer events. We have conducted an expressed sequence tag (EST) survey of the anaerobic flagellate Trimastix pyriformis to investigate the nature of the evolutionary origins of the glycolytic enzymes in this relatively unstudied organism.
We have found genes in the Trimastix EST data that encode enzymes potentially catalyzing nine of the ten steps of the glycolytic conversion of glucose to pyruvate. Furthermore, we have found two different enzymes that in principle could catalyze the conversion of phosphoenol pyruvate (PEP) to pyruvate (or the reverse reaction) as part of the last step in glycolysis. Our phylogenetic analyses of all of these enzymes revealed at least four cases where the relationship of the Trimastix genes to homologs from other species is at odds with accepted organismal relationships. Although lateral gene transfer events likely account for these anomalies, with the data at hand we were not able to establish with confidence the bacterial donor lineage that gave rise to the respective Trimastix enzymes.
A number of the glycolytic enzymes of Trimastix have been transferred laterally from bacteria instead of being inherited from the last common eukaryotic ancestor. Thus, despite widespread conservation of the glycolytic biochemical pathway across eukaryote diversity, in a number of protist lineages the enzymatic components of the pathway have been replaced by lateral gene transfer from disparate evolutionary sources. It remains unclear if these replacements result from selectively advantageous properties of the introduced enzymes or if they are neutral outcomes of a gene transfer 'ratchet' from food or endosymbiotic organisms or a combination of both processes.
PMCID: PMC1665464  PMID: 17123440
6.  Evolution of four gene families with patchy phylogenetic distributions: influx of genes into protist genomes 
Lateral gene transfer (LGT) in eukaryotes from non-organellar sources is a controversial subject in need of further study. Here we present gene distribution and phylogenetic analyses of the genes encoding the hybrid-cluster protein, A-type flavoprotein, glucosamine-6-phosphate isomerase, and alcohol dehydrogenase E. These four genes have a limited distribution among sequenced prokaryotic and eukaryotic genomes and were previously implicated in gene transfer events affecting eukaryotes. If our previous contention that these genes were introduced by LGT independently into the diplomonad and Entamoeba lineages were true, we expect that the number of putative transfers and the phylogenetic signal supporting LGT should be stable or increase, rather than decrease, when novel eukaryotic and prokaryotic homologs are added to the analyses.
The addition of homologs from phagotrophic protists, including several Entamoeba species, the pelobiont Mastigamoeba balamuthi, and the parabasalid Trichomonas vaginalis, and a large quantity of sequences from genome projects resulted in an apparent increase in the number of putative transfer events affecting all three domains of life. Some of the eukaryotic transfers affect a wide range of protists, such as three divergent lineages of Amoebozoa, represented by Entamoeba, Mastigamoeba, and Dictyostelium, while other transfers only affect a limited diversity, for example only the Entamoeba lineage. These observations are consistent with a model where these genes have been introduced into protist genomes independently from various sources over a long evolutionary time.
Phylogenetic analyses of the updated datasets using more sophisticated phylogenetic methods, in combination with the gene distribution analyses, strengthened, rather than weakened, the support for LGT as an important mechanism affecting the evolution of these gene families. Thus, gene transfer seems to be an on-going evolutionary mechanism by which genes are spread between unrelated lineages of all three domains of life, further indicating the importance of LGT from non-organellar sources into eukaryotic genomes.
PMCID: PMC1484493  PMID: 16551352
7.  Evolution of glutamate dehydrogenase genes: evidence for lateral gene transfer within and between prokaryotes and eukaryotes 
Lateral gene transfer can introduce genes with novel functions into genomes or replace genes with functionally similar orthologs or paralogs. Here we present a study of the occurrence of the latter gene replacement phenomenon in the four gene families encoding different classes of glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH), to evaluate and compare the patterns and rates of lateral gene transfer (LGT) in prokaryotes and eukaryotes.
We extend the taxon sampling of gdh genes with nine new eukaryotic sequences and examine the phylogenetic distribution pattern of the various GDH classes in combination with maximum likelihood phylogenetic analyses. The distribution pattern analyses indicate that LGT has played a significant role in the evolution of the four gdh gene families. Indeed, a number of gene transfer events are identified by phylogenetic analyses, including numerous prokaryotic intra-domain transfers, some prokaryotic inter-domain transfers and several inter-domain transfers between prokaryotes and microbial eukaryotes (protists).
LGT has apparently affected eukaryotes and prokaryotes to a similar extent within the gdh gene families. In the absence of indications that the evolution of the gdh gene families is radically different from other families, these results suggest that gene transfer might be an important evolutionary mechanism in microbial eukaryote genome evolution.
PMCID: PMC166173  PMID: 12820901

Results 1-7 (7)