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J Mol Evol. 2011 Mar;72(3):274-82. doi: 10.1007/s00239-011-9428-5. Epub 2011 Jan 23.

Early evolution of membrane lipids: how did the lipid divide occur?

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The ubiquitous distribution, homology over three domains, and key role in the membrane formation of the enzymes of the CDP-alcohol phosphatidyltransferase family, as well as phylogenetic analyses of lipid synthesizing enzymes suggest that the membranes of Wächtershäuser's hypothetical pre-cells (universal common ancestor) [Mol Microbiol 47:13-22 (2003)] comprised a lipid bilayer with four types of core lipids [G-1-P-isoprenoid ether (Ai), G-3-P-fatty acyl ester (Bf), G-1-P-fatty acyl ester (Af) and G-3-P-isoprenoid ether (Bi)]. Here, a complementary hypothesis is presented to explain the difference between archaeal and bacterial lipids (lipid divide). The main driving force of lipid segregation is assumed to be glycerophosphate (GP) enantiomers, as Wächtershäuser proposed, but in the present study the hydrocarbon chains bound to each backbone are also hypothesized to affect lipid segregation. It is assumed that segregation was stimulated by different hydrocarbon chains bound to different GP backbones (Ai:Bf or Af:Bi). Because Ai and Bi are diastereomers and Af and Bf are enantiomers, Ai:Bf and Af:Bi are not equivalent. G-1-P-isoprenoid ether is provisionally assumed to segregate more easily from Bf than Bi does from Af. G-1-P-isoprenoid ether and Bf could more easily achieve the more stable homochiral membranes that are the ancestors of Archaea and Bacteria. This can explain why the extant archaeal and bacterial membrane lipids are mainly composed by Ai and Bf lipids, respectively. Because polar head groups were localized in the cytoplasmic compartment of pre-cells, they were equally carried over to Archaea and Bacteria during differentiation. Consequently, the both descendants shared the main head groups of membrane phospholipids.

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