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Genetics. 2010 Feb;184(2):483-502. doi: 10.1534/genetics.109.110411. Epub 2009 Dec 4.

The evolution of control and distribution of adaptive mutations in a metabolic pathway.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708. USA. kmw15@duke.edu


In an attempt to understand whether it should be expected that some genes tend to be used disproportionately often by natural selection, we investigated two related phenomena: the evolution of flux control among enzymes in a metabolic pathway and properties of adaptive substitutions in pathway enzymes. These two phenomena are related by the principle that adaptive substitutions should occur more frequently in enzymes with greater flux control. Predicting which enzymes will be preferentially involved in adaptive evolution thus requires an evolutionary theory of flux control. We investigated the evolution of enzyme control in metabolic pathways with two models of enzyme kinetics: metabolic control theory (MCT) and Michaelis-Menten saturation kinetics (SK). Our models generate two main predictions for pathways in which reactions are moderately to highly irreversible: (1) flux control will evolve to be highly unequal among enzymes in a pathway and (2) upstream enzymes evolve a greater control coefficient then those downstream. This results in upstream enzymes fixing the majority of beneficial mutations during adaptive evolution. Once the population has reached high fitness, the trend is reversed, with the majority of neutral/slightly deleterious mutations occurring in downstream enzymes. These patterns are the result of three factors (the first of these is unique to the MCT simulations while the other two seem to be general properties of the metabolic pathways): (1) the majority of randomly selected, starting combinations of enzyme kinetic rates generate pathways that possess greater control for the upstream enzymes compared to downstream enzymes; (2) selection against large pools of intermediate substrates tends to prevent majority control by downstream enzymes; and (3) equivalent mutations in enzyme kinetic rates have the greatest effect on flux for enzymes with high levels of flux control, and these enzymes will accumulate adaptive substitutions, strengthening their control. Prediction 1 is well supported by available data on control coefficients. Data for evaluating prediction 2 are sparse but not inconsistent with this prediction.

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