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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci [journal]
- Early bioenergetic evolution. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20130088.
Life is the harnessing of chemical energy in such a way that the energy-harnessing device makes a copy of itself. This paper outlines an energetically feasible path from a particular inorganic setting for the origin of life to the first free-living cells. The sources of energy available to early organic synthesis, early evolving systems and early cells stand in the foreground, as do the possible mechanisms of their conversion into harnessable chemical energy for synthetic reactions. With regard to the possible temporal sequence of events, we focus on: (i) alkaline hydrothermal vents as the far-from-equilibrium setting, (ii) the Wood-Ljungdahl (acetyl-CoA) pathway as the route that could have underpinned carbon assimilation for these processes, (iii) biochemical divergence, within the naturally formed inorganic compartments at a hydrothermal mound, of geochemically confined replicating entities with a complexity below that of free-living prokaryotes, and (iv) acetogenesis and methanogenesis as the ancestral forms of carbon and energy metabolism in the first free-living ancestors of the eubacteria and archaebacteria, respectively. In terms of the main evolutionary transitions in early bioenergetic evolution, we focus on: (i) thioester-dependent substrate-level phosphorylations, (ii) harnessing of naturally existing proton gradients at the vent-ocean interface via the ATP synthase, (iii) harnessing of Na(+) gradients generated by H(+)/Na(+) antiporters, (iv) flavin-based bifurcation-dependent gradient generation, and finally (v) quinone-based (and Q-cycle-dependent) proton gradient generation. Of those five transitions, the first four are posited to have taken place at the vent. Ultimately, all of these bioenergetic processes depend, even today, upon CO2 reduction with low-potential ferredoxin (Fd), generated either chemosynthetically or photosynthetically, suggesting a reaction of the type 'reduced iron → reduced carbon' at the beginning of bioenergetic evolution.
- Energy, ecology and the distribution of microbial life. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20120383.
Mechanisms that govern the coexistence of multiple biological species have been studied intensively by ecologists since the turn of the nineteenth century. Microbial ecologists in the meantime have faced many fundamental challenges, such as the lack of an ecologically coherent species definition, lack of adequate methods for evaluating population sizes and community composition in nature, and enormous taxonomic and functional diversity. The accessibility of powerful, culture-independent molecular microbiology methods offers an opportunity to close the gap between microbial science and the main stream of ecological theory, with the promise of new insights and tools needed to meet the grand challenges humans face as planetary engineers and galactic explorers. We focus specifically on resources related to energy metabolism because of their direct links to elemental cycling in the Earth's history, engineering applications and astrobiology. To what extent does the availability of energy resources structure microbial communities in nature? Our recent work on sulfur- and iron-oxidizing autotrophs suggests that apparently subtle variations in the concentration ratios of external electron donors and acceptors select for different microbial populations. We show that quantitative knowledge of microbial energy niches (population-specific patterns of energy resource use) can be used to predict variations in the abundance of specific taxa in microbial communities. Furthermore, we propose that resource ratio theory applied to micro-organisms will provide a useful framework for identifying how environmental communities are organized in space and time.
- Bioenergetics in human evolution and disease: implications for the origins of biological complexity and the missing genetic variation of common diseases. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20120267.
Two major inconsistencies exist in the current neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory that random chromosomal mutations acted on by natural selection generate new species. First, natural selection does not require the evolution of ever increasing complexity, yet this is the hallmark of biology. Second, human chromosomal DNA sequence variation is predominantly either neutral or deleterious and is insufficient to provide the variation required for speciation or for predilection to common diseases. Complexity is explained by the continuous flow of energy through the biosphere that drives the accumulation of nucleic acids and information. Information then encodes complex forms. In animals, energy flow is primarily mediated by mitochondria whose maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) codes for key genes for energy metabolism. In mammals, the mtDNA has a very high mutation rate, but the deleterious mutations are removed by an ovarian selection system. Hence, new mutations that subtly alter energy metabolism are continuously introduced into the species, permitting adaptation to regional differences in energy environments. Therefore, the most phenotypically significant gene variants arise in the mtDNA, are regional, and permit animals to occupy peripheral energy environments where rarer nuclear DNA (nDNA) variants can accumulate, leading to speciation. The neutralist-selectionist debate is then a consequence of mammals having two different evolutionary strategies: a fast mtDNA strategy for intra-specific radiation and a slow nDNA strategy for speciation. Furthermore, the missing genetic variation for common human diseases is primarily mtDNA variation plus regional nDNA variants, both of which have been missed by large, inter-population association studies.
- Why did eukaryotes evolve only once? Genetic and energetic aspects of conflict and conflict mediation. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20120266.
According to multi-level theory, evolutionary transitions require mediating conflicts between lower-level units in favour of the higher-level unit. By this view, the origin of eukaryotes and the origin of multicellularity would seem largely equivalent. Yet, eukaryotes evolved only once in the history of life, whereas multicellular eukaryotes have evolved many times. Examining conflicts between evolutionary units and mechanisms that mediate these conflicts can illuminate these differences. Energy-converting endosymbionts that allow eukaryotes to transcend surface-to-volume constraints also can allocate energy into their own selfish replication. This principal conflict in the origin of eukaryotes can be mediated by genetic or energetic mechanisms. Genome transfer diminishes the heritable variation of the symbiont, but requires the de novo evolution of the protein-import apparatus and was opposed by selection for selfish symbionts. By contrast, metabolic signalling is a shared primitive feature of all cells. Redox state of the cytosol is an emergent feature that cannot be subverted by an individual symbiont. Hypothetical scenarios illustrate how metabolic regulation may have mediated the conflicts inherent at different stages in the origin of eukaryotes. Aspects of metabolic regulation may have subsequently been coopted from within-cell to between-cell pathways, allowing multicellularity to emerge repeatedly.
- Interactions of photosynthesis with genome size and function. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20120264.
Photolithotrophs are divided between those that use water as their electron donor (Cyanobacteria and the photosynthetic eukaryotes) and those that use a different electron donor (the anoxygenic photolithotrophs, all of them Bacteria). Photolithotrophs with the most reduced genomes have more genes than do the corresponding chemoorganotrophs, and the fastest-growing photolithotrophs have significantly lower specific growth rates than the fastest-growing chemoorganotrophs. Slower growth results from diversion of resources into the photosynthetic apparatus, which accounts for about half of the cell protein. There are inherent dangers in (especially oxygenic) photosynthesis, including the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and blue light sensitivity of the water spitting apparatus. The extent to which photolithotrophs incur greater DNA damage and repair, and faster protein turnover with increased rRNA requirement, needs further investigation. A related source of environmental damage is ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation (280-320 nm), whose flux at the Earth's surface decreased as oxygen (and ozone) increased in the atmosphere. This oxygenation led to the requirements of defence against ROS, and decreasing availability to organisms of combined (non-dinitrogen) nitrogen and ferrous iron, and (indirectly) phosphorus, in the oxygenated biosphere. Differential codon usage in the genome and, especially, the proteome can lead to economies in the use of potentially growth-limiting elements.
- Energy, ageing, fidelity and sex: oocyte mitochondrial DNA as a protected genetic template. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20120263.
Oxidative phosphorylation couples ATP synthesis to respiratory electron transport. In eukaryotes, this coupling occurs in mitochondria, which carry DNA. Respiratory electron transport in the presence of molecular oxygen generates free radicals, reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are mutagenic. In animals, mutational damage to mitochondrial DNA therefore accumulates within the lifespan of the individual. Fertilization generally requires motility of one gamete, and motility requires ATP. It has been proposed that oxidative phosphorylation is nevertheless absent in the special case of quiescent, template mitochondria, that these remain sequestered in oocytes and female germ lines and that oocyte mitochondrial DNA is thus protected from damage, but evidence to support that view has hitherto been lacking. Here we show that female gametes of Aurelia aurita, the common jellyfish, do not transcribe mitochondrial DNA, lack electron transport, and produce no free radicals. In contrast, male gametes actively transcribe mitochondrial genes for respiratory chain components and produce ROS. Electron microscopy shows that this functional division of labour between sperm and egg is accompanied by contrasting mitochondrial morphology. We suggest that mitochondrial anisogamy underlies division of any animal species into two sexes with complementary roles in sexual reproduction. We predict that quiescent oocyte mitochondria contain DNA as an unexpressed template that avoids mutational accumulation by being transmitted through the female germ line. The active descendants of oocyte mitochondria perform oxidative phosphorylation in somatic cells and in male gametes of each new generation, and the mutations that they accumulated are not inherited. We propose that the avoidance of ROS-dependent mutation is the evolutionary pressure underlying maternal mitochondrial inheritance and the developmental origin of the female germ line.
- Controlling the delicate balance of tetrapyrrole biosynthesis. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20120262.
Tetrapyrroles are a family of compounds that contain four pyrrole rings. They are involved in many fundamental biological processes such as photoreception, electron transport, gas transport and also as cofactors for enzymatic reactions. As regulators of protein activity, tetrapyrroles mediate cellular response to light, oxygen and nutrient levels in the surrounding environment. Biosynthesis of haem tetrapyrroles shares, conserved pathways and enzymes among all three domains of life. This is contrasted by chlorophyll biosynthesis that is only present in eubacteria and chloroplasts, or cobalamin biosynthesis that is only present in eubacteria and archaea. This implicates haem as the most ancient, and chlorophyll as the most recent, of the common tetrapyrroles that are currently synthesized by existing organisms. Haem and chlorophyll are both toxic when synthesized in excess over apo-proteins that bind these tetrapyrroles. Accordingly, the synthesis of these tetrapyrroles has to be tightly regulated and coordinated with apo-protein production. The mechanism of regulating haem and chlorophyll synthesis has been studied intensively in Rhodobacter species and will be discussed.
- Evolutionary rewiring: a modified prokaryotic gene-regulatory pathway in chloroplasts. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20120260.
Photosynthetic electron transport regulates chloroplast gene transcription through the action of a bacterial-type sensor kinase known as chloroplast sensor kinase (CSK). CSK represses photosystem I (PS I) gene transcription in PS I light and thus initiates photosystem stoichiometry adjustment. In cyanobacteria and in non-green algae, CSK homologues co-exist with their response regulator partners in canonical bacterial two-component systems. In green algae and plants, however, no response regulator partner of CSK is found. Yeast two-hybrid analysis has revealed interaction of CSK with sigma factor 1 (SIG1) of chloroplast RNA polymerase. Here we present further evidence for the interaction between CSK and SIG1. We also show that CSK interacts with quinone. Arabidopsis SIG1 becomes phosphorylated in PS I light, which then specifically represses transcription of PS I genes. In view of the identical signalling properties of CSK and SIG1 and of their interactions, we suggest that CSK is a SIG1 kinase. We propose that the selective repression of PS I genes arises from the operation of a gene-regulatory phosphoswitch in SIG1. The CSK-SIG1 system represents a novel, rewired chloroplast-signalling pathway created by evolutionary tinkering. This regulatory system supports a proposal for the selection pressure behind the evolutionary stasis of chloroplast genes.
- Requirements of the cytosolic iron-sulfur cluster assembly pathway in Arabidopsis. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20120259.
The assembly of iron-sulfur (Fe-S) clusters requires dedicated protein factors inside the living cell. Striking similarities between prokaryotic and eukaryotic assembly proteins suggest that plant cells inherited two different pathways through endosymbiosis: the ISC pathway in mitochondria and the SUF pathway in plastids. Fe-S proteins are also found in the cytosol and nucleus, but little is known about how they are assembled in plant cells. Here, we show that neither plastid assembly proteins nor the cytosolic cysteine desulfurase ABA3 are required for the activity of cytosolic aconitase, which depends on a [4Fe-4S] cluster. In contrast, cytosolic aconitase activity depended on the mitochondrial cysteine desulfurase NFS1 and the mitochondrial transporter ATM3. In addition, we were able to complement a yeast mutant in the cytosolic Fe-S cluster assembly pathway, dre2, with the Arabidopsis homologue AtDRE2, but only when expressed together with the diflavin reductase AtTAH18. Spectroscopic characterization showed that purified AtDRE2 could bind up to two Fe-S clusters. Purified AtTAH18 bound one flavin per molecule and was able to accept electrons from NAD(P)H. These results suggest that the proteins involved in cytosolic Fe-S cluster assembly are highly conserved, and that dependence on the mitochondria arose before the second endosymbiosis event leading to plastids.
- Beating the acetyl coenzyme A-pathway to the origin of life. [Journal Article]
- Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2013; 368(1622):20120258.
Attempts to draft plausible scenarios for the origin of life have in the past mainly built upon palaeogeochemical boundary conditions while, as detailed in a companion article in this issue, frequently neglecting to comply with fundamental thermodynamic laws. Even if demands from both palaeogeochemistry and thermodynamics are respected, then a plethora of strongly differing models are still conceivable. Although we have no guarantee that life at its origin necessarily resembled biology in extant organisms, we consider that the only empirical way to deduce how life may have emerged is by taking the stance of assuming continuity of biology from its inception to the present day. Building upon this conviction, we have assessed extant types of energy and carbon metabolism for their appropriateness to conditions probably pertaining in those settings of the Hadean planet that fulfil the thermodynamic requirements for life to come into being. Wood-Ljungdahl (WL) pathways leading to acetyl CoA formation are excellent candidates for such primordial metabolism. Based on a review of our present understanding of the biochemistry and biophysics of acetogenic, methanogenic and methanotrophic pathways and on a phylogenetic analysis of involved enzymes, we propose that a variant of modern methanotrophy is more likely than traditional WL systems to date back to the origin of life. The proposed model furthermore better fits basic thermodynamic demands and palaeogeochemical conditions suggested by recent results from extant alkaline hydrothermal seeps.