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J Mol Biol. 2002 Jul 19;320(4):751-70.

Evolution of enzymes in metabolism: a network perspective.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Structural Bioinformatics Group, Biochemistry Building, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London SW7 2AZ, UK.

Erratum in

  • J Mol Biol 2002 Nov 22;324(2):387.


Several models have been proposed to explain the origin and evolution of enzymes in metabolic pathways. Initially, the retro-evolution model proposed that, as enzymes at the end of pathways depleted their substrates in the primordial soup, there was a pressure for earlier enzymes in pathways to be created, using the later ones as initial template, in order to replenish the pools of depleted metabolites. Later, the recruitment model proposed that initial templates from other pathways could be used as long as those enzymes were similar in chemistry or substrate specificity. These two models have dominated recent studies of enzyme evolution. These studies are constrained by either the small scale of the study or the artificial restrictions imposed by pathway definitions. Here, a network approach is used to study enzyme evolution in fully sequenced genomes, thus removing both constraints. We find that homologous pairs of enzymes are roughly twice as likely to have evolved from enzymes that are less than three steps away from each other in the reaction network than pairs of non-homologous enzymes. These results, together with the conservation of the type of chemical reaction catalyzed by evolutionarily related enzymes, suggest that functional blocks of similar chemistry have evolved within metabolic networks. One possible explanation for these observations is that this local evolution phenomenon is likely to cause less global physiological disruptions in metabolism than evolution of enzymes from other enzymes that are distant from them in the metabolic network.

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