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Genome Res. 2000 Oct;10(10):1468-84.

Biosynthesis of isoprenoids via mevalonate in Archaea: the lost pathway.

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  • 1Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.


Isoprenoid compounds are ubiquitous in living species and diverse in biological function. Isoprenoid side chains of the membrane lipids are biochemical markers distinguishing archaea from the rest of living forms. The mevalonate pathway of isoprenoid biosynthesis has been defined completely in yeast, while the alternative, deoxy-D-xylulose phosphate synthase pathway is found in many bacteria. In archaea, some enzymes of the mevalonate pathway are found, but the orthologs of three yeast proteins, accounting for the route from phosphomevalonate to geranyl pyrophosphate, are missing, as are the enzymes from the alternative pathway. To understand the evolution of isoprenoid biosynthesis, as well as the mechanism of lipid biosynthesis in archaea, sequence motifs in the known enzymes of the two pathways of isoprenoid biosynthesis were analyzed. New sequence relationships were detected, including similarities between diphosphomevalonate decarboxylase and kinases of the galactokinase superfamily, between the metazoan phosphomevalonate kinase and the nucleoside monophosphate kinase superfamily, and between isopentenyl pyrophosphate isomerases and MutT pyrophosphohydrolases. Based on these findings, orphan members of the galactokinase, nucleoside monophosphate kinase, and pyrophosphohydrolase families in archaeal genomes were evaluated as candidate enzymes for the three missing steps. Alternative methods of finding these missing links were explored, including physical linkage of open reading frames and patterns of ortholog distribution in different species. Combining these approaches resulted in the generation of a short list of 13 candidate genes for the three missing functions in archaea, whose participation in isoprenoid biosynthesis is amenable to biochemical and genetic investigation.

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