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Gene. 2007 Jul 1;396(1):116-24. Epub 2007 Mar 14.

Homologs of eukaryotic Ras superfamily proteins in prokaryotes and their novel phylogenetic correlation with their eukaryotic analogs.

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  • 1Key Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650223, Yunnan Province, China.


Ras superfamily proteins are key regulators in a wide variety of cellular processes. Previously, they were considered to be specific to eukaryotes, and MglA, a group of obviously different prokaryotic proteins, were recognized as their only prokaryotic analogs or even ancestors. Here, taking advantage of quite a current accumulation of prokaryotic genomic databases, we have investigated the existence and taxonomic distribution of Ras superfamily protein homologs in a much wider prokaryotic range, and analyzed their phylogenetic correlation with their eukaryotic analogs. Thirteen unambiguous prokaryotic homologs, which possess the GDP/GTP-binding domain with all the five characteristic motifs of their eukaryotic analogs, were identified in 12 eubacteria and one archaebacterium, respectively. In some other archaebacteria, including four methanogenic archaebacteria and three Thermoplasmales, homologs were also found, but with the GDP/GTP-binding domains not containing all the five characteristic motifs. Many more MglA orthologs were identified than in previous studies mainly in delta-proteobacteria, and all were shown to have common unique features distinct from the Ras superfamily proteins. Our phylogenetic analysis indicated eukaryotic Rab, Ran, Ras, and Rho families have the closest phylogenetic correlation with the 13 unambiguous prokaryotic homologs, whereas the other three eukaryotic protein families (SRbeta, Sar1, and Arf) branch separately from them, but have a relatively close relationship with the methanogenic archaebacterial homologs and MglA. Although homologs were identified in a relative minority of prokaryotes with genomic databases, their presence in a relatively wide variety of lineages, their unique sequence characters distinct from those of eukaryotic analogs, and the topology of our phylogenetic tree altogether do not support their origin from eukaryotes as a result of lateral gene transfer. Therefore, we argue that Ras superfamily proteins might have already emerged at least in some prokaryotic lineages, and that the seven eukaryotic protein families of the Ras superfamily may have two independent prokaryotic origins, probably reflecting the 'fusion' evolutionary history of the eukaryotic cell.

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