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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Feb 14;103(7):2226-31. Epub 2006 Feb 6.

Evolution of enzymes in a series is driven by dissimilar functional demands.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Michigan Medical School, 5641 Medical Science II, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0620, USA.


That distinct enzyme activities in an unbranched metabolic pathway are evolutionarily tuned to a single functional requirement is a pervasive assumption. Here we test this assumption by examining the activities of two consecutively acting enzymes in human erythrocytes with an approach to quantitative evolutionary design that avoids the above-mentioned assumption. We previously found that avoidance of NADPH depletion during the pulses of oxidative load to which erythrocytes are normally exposed is the main functional requirement mediating selection for high glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase activity. In the present study, we find that, in contrast, the maintenance of oxidized glutathione at low concentrations is the main functional requirement mediating selection for high glutathione reductase activity. The results in this case show that, contrary to the assumption of a single functional requirement, natural selection for the normal activities of the distinct enzymes in the pathway is mediated by different requirements. On the other hand, the results agree with the more general principles that underlie our approach. Namely, that (i) the values of biochemical parameters evolve so as to fulfill the various performance requirements that are relevant to achieve high fitness, and (ii) these performance requirements can be inferred from quantitative systems theory considerations, informed by knowledge of specific aspects of the biochemistry, physiology, genetics, and ecology of the organism.

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