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IUBMB Life. 2007 Apr-May;59(4-5):355-60.

Stress-inducible flavodoxin from photosynthetic microorganisms. The mystery of flavodoxin loss from the plant genome.

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Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Rosario (IBR, CONICET), División Biología Molecular, Facultad de Ciencias Bioquímicas y Farmacéuticas, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Rosario, Argentina.


Flavodoxins (Flds) are mobile electron carriers containing flavin mononucleotide as the prosthetic group. They are isofunctional with the ubiquitous electron shuttle ferredoxin (Fd), mediating essentially the same redox processes among a promiscuous lot of donors and acceptors. While Fds are distributed throughout all kingdoms from prokaryotes to animals, Flds are only found in some bacteria and oceanic algae, in which they are induced to replace Fd functions under conditions of iron starvation and environmental stress that cause Fd decline. They thus play a key adaptive role in photosynthetic microorganisms, allowing survival and reproduction under adverse situations. The Fld gene disappeared from the plant genome somewhere between the green algal ancestor and the first terrestrial plants, and the advantages of this adaptive resource were irreversibly lost. However, reintroduction of a cyanobacterial Fld gene in the chloroplasts of transgenic tobacco resulted in remarkably enhanced tolerance to iron starvation and abiotic stress, indicating that the compensatory functions of Fld were still valuable in higher plants. A hypothesis is formulated to explain why Fld, in spite of its proven advantage, was lost from the plant genetic pool. The contention is based on two tenets: (i) iron availability was the major imperative for Fld conservation and adaptive value, and (ii) photosynthetic eukaryotes followed a succession of ecological adaptations, from the open oceans to coastal regions, and from there to the firm land, facing very different scenarios with respect to iron abundance and accessibility.

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