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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e57518. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057518. Epub 2013 Mar 19.

Identification of a missing link in the evolution of an enzyme into a transcriptional regulator.

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Department of Environmental Biology, Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas-CSIC, Madrid, Spain.


The evolution of transcriptional regulators through the recruitment of DNA-binding domains by enzymes is a widely held notion. However, few experimental approaches have directly addressed this hypothesis. Here we report the reconstruction of a plausible pathway for the evolution of an enzyme into a transcriptional regulator. The BzdR protein is the prototype of a subfamily of prokaryotic transcriptional regulators that controls the expression of genes involved in the anaerobic degradation of benzoate. We have shown that BzdR consists of an N-terminal DNA-binding domain connected through a linker to a C-terminal effector-binding domain that shows significant identity to the shikimate kinase (SK). The construction of active synthetic BzdR-like regulators by fusing the DNA-binding domain of BzdR to the Escherichia coli SKI protein strongly supports the notion that an ancestral SK domain could have been involved in the evolutionary origin of BzdR. The loss of the enzymatic activity of the ancestral SK domain was essential for it to evolve as a regulatory domain in the current BzdR protein. This work also supports the view that enzymes precede the emergence of the regulatory systems that may control their expression.

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