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Mol Microbiol. 2011 Oct;82(2):265-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2011.07824.x. Epub 2011 Sep 14.

Evolution of catabolic pathways and their regulatory systems in synthetic nitroaromatic compounds degrading bacteria.

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Department of Genetics, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, 23 Riia Street, 51010 Tartu, Estonia.


Evolution of catabolic pathways for the degradation of synthetic nitroaromatic compounds is currently ongoing process because these compounds have been in nature only for a short time. Bacteria isolated from contaminated areas contain pathways for the degradation of nitroaromatic compounds at different stages of progression. Therefore, the emergence of pathways for the degradation of such chemicals provides a good opportunity to investigate evolutionary processes leading to the emergence of new metabolic routes and their regulatory systems. In Burkholderia sp. strain DNT the regulatory gene encoding the LysR-type transcriptional regulator DntR is placed divergently of the dinitrotoluene (DNT) dioxygenase genes. This regulator still recognizes salicylate, an effector of its NagR-like ancestor but not DNT. In this issue of Molecular Microbiology, de las Heras et al. demonstrate that the DntR does not respond to any metabolic intermediates of the DNT catabolic pathway. The results of this study suggest that the catabolic pathway for the degradation of DNT has reached to an early stage of evolution when novel specificities of the catabolic enzymes have already acquired but the cognate regulatory system is still missing. This research addresses some fundamental questions about bottlenecks to be solved during evolution of new catabolic operons.

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