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1.  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
2.  On the origin of life in the Zinc world. 2. Validation of the hypothesis on the photosynthesizing zinc sulfide edifices as cradles of life on Earth 
Biology Direct  2009;4:27.
The accompanying article (A.Y. Mulkidjanian, Biology Direct 4:26) puts forward a detailed hypothesis on the role of zinc sulfide (ZnS) in the origin of life on Earth. The hypothesis suggests that life emerged within compartmentalized, photosynthesizing ZnS formations of hydrothermal origin (the Zn world), assembled in sub-aerial settings on the surface of the primeval Earth.
If life started within photosynthesizing ZnS compartments, it should have been able to evolve under the conditions of elevated levels of Zn2+ ions, byproducts of the ZnS-mediated photosynthesis. Therefore, the Zn world hypothesis leads to a set of testable predictions regarding the specific roles of Zn2+ ions in modern organisms, particularly in RNA and protein structures related to the procession of RNA and the "evolutionarily old" cellular functions. We checked these predictions using publicly available data and obtained evidence suggesting that the development of the primeval life forms up to the stage of the Last Universal Common Ancestor proceeded in zinc-rich settings. Testing of the hypothesis has revealed the possible supportive role of manganese sulfide in the primeval photosynthesis. In addition, we demonstrate the explanatory power of the Zn world concept by elucidating several points that so far remained without acceptable rationalization. In particular, this concept implies a new scenario for the separation of Bacteria and Archaea and the origin of Eukarya.
The ability of the Zn world hypothesis to generate non-trivial veritable predictions and explain previously obscure items gives credence to its key postulate that the development of the first life forms started within zinc-rich formations of hydrothermal origin and was driven by solar UV irradiation. This concept implies that the geochemical conditions conducive to the origin of life may have persisted only as long as the atmospheric CO2 pressure remained above ca. 10 bar. This work envisions the first Earth biotopes as photosynthesizing and habitable areas of porous ZnS and MnS precipitates around primeval hot springs. Further work will be needed to provide details on the life within these communities and to elucidate the primordial (bio)chemical reactions.
This article was reviewed by Arcady Mushegian, Eugene Koonin, and Patrick Forterre. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' reports section.
PMCID: PMC2749021  PMID: 19703275
3.  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
4.  Evolutionary primacy of sodium bioenergetics 
Biology Direct  2008;3:13.
The F- and V-type ATPases are rotary molecular machines that couple translocation of protons or sodium ions across the membrane to the synthesis or hydrolysis of ATP. Both the F-type (found in most bacteria and eukaryotic mitochondria and chloroplasts) and V-type (found in archaea, some bacteria, and eukaryotic vacuoles) ATPases can translocate either protons or sodium ions. The prevalent proton-dependent ATPases are generally viewed as the primary form of the enzyme whereas the sodium-translocating ATPases of some prokaryotes are usually construed as an exotic adaptation to survival in extreme environments.
We combine structural and phylogenetic analyses to clarify the evolutionary relation between the proton- and sodium-translocating ATPases. A comparison of the structures of the membrane-embedded oligomeric proteolipid rings of sodium-dependent F- and V-ATPases reveals nearly identical sets of amino acids involved in sodium binding. We show that the sodium-dependent ATPases are scattered among proton-dependent ATPases in both the F- and the V-branches of the phylogenetic tree.
Barring convergent emergence of the same set of ligands in several lineages, these findings indicate that the use of sodium gradient for ATP synthesis is the ancestral modality of membrane bioenergetics. Thus, a primitive, sodium-impermeable but proton-permeable cell membrane that harboured a set of sodium-transporting enzymes appears to have been the evolutionary predecessor of the more structurally demanding proton-tight membranes. The use of proton as the coupling ion appears to be a later innovation that emerged on several independent occasions.
This article was reviewed by J. Peter Gogarten, Martijn A. Huynen, and Igor B. Zhulin. For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' comments section.
PMCID: PMC2359735  PMID: 18380897

Results 1-4 (4)