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1.  Deep transcriptome-sequencing and proteome analysis of the hydrothermal vent annelid Alvinella pompejana identifies the CvP-bias as a robust measure of eukaryotic thermostability 
Biology Direct  2013;8:2.
Alvinella pompejana is an annelid worm that inhabits deep-sea hydrothermal vent sites in the Pacific Ocean. Living at a depth of approximately 2500 meters, these worms experience extreme environmental conditions, including high temperature and pressure as well as high levels of sulfide and heavy metals. A. pompejana is one of the most thermotolerant metazoans, making this animal a subject of great interest for studies of eukaryotic thermoadaptation.
In order to complement existing EST resources we performed deep sequencing of the A. pompejana transcriptome. We identified several thousand novel protein-coding transcripts, nearly doubling the sequence data for this annelid. We then performed an extensive survey of previously established prokaryotic thermoadaptation measures to search for global signals of thermoadaptation in A. pompejana in comparison with mesophilic eukaryotes. In an orthologous set of 457 proteins, we found that the best indicator of thermoadaptation was the difference in frequency of charged versus polar residues (CvP-bias), which was highest in A. pompejana. CvP-bias robustly distinguished prokaryotic thermophiles from prokaryotic mesophiles, as well as the thermophilic fungus Chaetomium thermophilum from mesophilic eukaryotes. Experimental values for thermophilic proteins supported higher CvP-bias as a measure of thermal stability when compared to their mesophilic orthologs. Proteome-wide mean CvP-bias also correlated with the body temperatures of homeothermic birds and mammals.
Our work extends the transcriptome resources for A. pompejana and identifies the CvP-bias as a robust and widely applicable measure of eukaryotic thermoadaptation.
This article was reviewed by Sándor Pongor, L. Aravind and Anthony M. Poole.
PMCID: PMC3564776  PMID: 23324115
2.  Origin of the nucleus and Ran-dependent transport to safeguard ribosome biogenesis in a chimeric cell 
Biology Direct  2008;3:31.
The origin of the nucleus is a central problem about the origin of eukaryotes. The common ancestry of nuclear pore complexes (NPC) and vesicle coating complexes indicates that the nucleus evolved via the modification of a pre-existing endomembrane system. Such an autogenous scenario is cell biologically feasible, but it is not clear what were the selective or neutral mechanisms that had led to the origin of the nuclear compartment.
A key selective force during the autogenous origin of the nucleus could have been the need to segregate ribosome factories from the cytoplasm where ribosomal proteins (RPs) of the protomitochondrium were synthesized. After its uptake by an anuclear cell the protomitochondrium transferred several of its RP genes to the host genome. Alphaproteobacterial RPs and archaebacterial-type host ribosomes were consequently synthesized in the same cytoplasm. This could have led to the formation of chimeric ribosomes. I propose that the nucleus evolved when the host cell compartmentalised its ribosome factories and the tightly linked genome to reduce ribosome chimerism. This was achieved in successive stages by first evolving karyopherin and RanGTP dependent chaperoning of RPs, followed by the evolution of a membrane network to serve as a diffusion barrier, and finally a hydrogel sieve to ensure selective permeability at nuclear pores. Computer simulations show that a gradual segregation of cytoplasm and nucleoplasm via these steps can progressively reduce ribosome chimerism.
Ribosome chimerism can provide a direct link between the selective forces for and the mechanisms of evolving nuclear transport and compartmentalisation. The detailed molecular scenario presented here provides a solution to the gradual evolution of nuclear compartmentalization from an anuclear stage.
This article was reviewed by Eugene V Koonin, Martijn Huynen, Anthony M. Poole and Patrick Forterre.
PMCID: PMC2503971  PMID: 18652645
3.  Origin of phagotrophic eukaryotes as social cheaters in microbial biofilms 
Biology Direct  2007;2:3.
The origin of eukaryotic cells was one of the most dramatic evolutionary transitions in the history of life. It is generally assumed that eukaryotes evolved later then prokaryotes by the transformation or fusion of prokaryotic lineages. However, as yet there is no consensus regarding the nature of the prokaryotic group(s) ancestral to eukaryotes. Regardless of this, a hardly debatable fundamental novel characteristic of the last eukaryotic common ancestor was the ability to exploit prokaryotic biomass by the ingestion of entire cells, i.e. phagocytosis. The recent advances in our understanding of the social life of prokaryotes may help to explain the origin of this form of total exploitation.
Presentation of the hypothesis
Here I propose that eukaryotic cells originated in a social environment, a differentiated microbial mat or biofilm that was maintained by the cooperative action of its members. Cooperation was costly (e.g. the production of developmental signals or an extracellular matrix) but yielded benefits that increased the overall fitness of the social group. I propose that eukaryotes originated as selfish cheaters that enjoyed the benefits of social aggregation but did not contribute to it themselves. The cheaters later evolved into predators that lysed other cells and eventually became professional phagotrophs. During several cycles of social aggregation and dispersal the number of cheaters was contained by a chicken game situation, i.e. reproductive success of cheaters was high when they were in low abundance but was reduced when they were over-represented. Radical changes in cell structure, including the loss of the rigid prokaryotic cell wall and the development of endomembranes, allowed the protoeukaryotes to avoid cheater control and to exploit nutrients more efficiently. Cellular changes were buffered by both the social benefits and the protective physico-chemical milieu of the interior of biofilms. Symbiosis with the mitochondial ancestor evolved after phagotrophy as alphaproteobacterial prey developed post-ingestion defence mechanisms to circumvent digestion in the food vacuole. Mitochondrial symbiosis triggered the origin of the nucleus. Cilia evolved last and allowed eukaryotes to predate also on planktonic prey. I will discuss how this scenario may possibly fit into the contrasting phylogenetic frameworks that have been proposed.
Testing the hypothesis
Some aspects of the hypothesis can be tested experimentally by studying the level of exploitation cheaters can reach in social microbes. It would be interesting to test whether absorption of nutrients from lysed fellow colony members can happen and if cheaters can evolve into predators that actively digest neighbouring cells.
Implications of the hypothesis
The hypothesis highlights the importance of social exploitation in cell evolution and how a social environment can buffer drastic cellular transformations that would be lethal for planktonic forms.
This article was reviewed by Eugene V Koonin, Purificación López-García, and Igor Zhulin.
PMCID: PMC1794243  PMID: 17239231
4.  Did the last common ancestor have a biological membrane? 
Biology Direct  2006;1:35.
All theories about the origin and evolution of membrane bound cells necessarily have to cope with the nature of the last common ancestor of cellular life. One of the most important aspect of this ancestor, whether it had a closed biological membrane or not, has recently been intensely debated. Having a consensus about it would be an important step towards an eventual (though probably still remote) synthesis of the best elements of the current multitude of cell evolution models. Here I analyse the structural and functional conservation of the few universally distributed proteins that were undoubtedly present in the last common ancestor and that carry out membrane-associated functions. These include the SecY subunit of the protein-conducting channel, the signal recognition particle, the signal recognition particle receptor, the signal peptidase, and the proton ATPase. The conserved structural and functional aspects of these proteins indicate that the last common ancestor was associated with a hydrophobic layer with two hydrophilic sides (an inside and an outside) that had a full-fledged and asymmetric protein insertion and translocation machinery and served as a permeability barrier for protons and other small molecules. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the last common ancestor had a closed biological membrane from which all cellular membranes evolved.
PMCID: PMC1675992  PMID: 17129384

Results 1-4 (4)