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Trends Biochem Sci. 2004 Sep;29(9):469-77.

Ancestral lipid biosynthesis and early membrane evolution.

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Unité d'Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, UMR CNRS 8079, Université Paris-Sud, 91405 Orsay Cedex, France.


Archaea possess unique membrane phospholipids that generally comprise isoprenoid ethers built on sn-glycerol-1-phosphate (G1P). By contrast, bacterial and eukaryal membrane phospholipids are fatty acid esters linked to sn-glycerol-3-phosphate (G3P). The two key dehydrogenase enzymes that produce G1P and G3P, G1PDH and G3PDH, respectively, are not homologous. Various models propose that these enzymes originated during the speciation of the two prokaryotic domains, and the nature (and even the very existence) of lipid membranes in the last universal common ancestor (cenancestor) is subject to debate. G1PDH and G3PDH belong to two separate superfamilies that are universally distributed, suggesting that members of both superfamilies existed in the cenancestor. Furthermore, archaea possess homologues to known bacterial genes involved in fatty acid metabolism and synthesize fatty acid phospholipids. The cenancestor seems likely to have been endowed with membrane lipids whose synthesis was enzymatic but probably non-stereospecific.

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