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Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2000 Dec;11(6):511-21.

Bacteriophytochromes: new tools for understanding phytochrome signal transduction.

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  • 1Cellular and Molecular Biology and Genetics Programs and the Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1575 Linden Drive Madison, WI 53706, USA.


The recent discovery of phytochrome-like photoreceptors, collectively called bacteriophytochromes, in a number of bacteria has greatly expanded our understanding of the origins and modes of action of phytochromes in higher plants. These primitive receptors contain an N-terminal domain homologous to the chromophore-binding pocket of phytochromes, and like phytochromes, they bind a variety of bilins to generate photochromic holoproteins. Following the chromophore pocket is a domain similar to two-component histidine kinases, suggesting that these bacterial photoreceptors function in phosphorelay cascades that respond to the light environment. Their organization and distribution support the views that higher-plant phytochromes evolved from a cyanobacterial precursor and that they act as light-regulated kinases. With the ability to exploit bacterial genetics, these bacteriophytochromes now offer simple models to help unravel the biochemical and biophysical events that initiate phytochrome signal transmission.

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