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J Mol Evol. 1998 Nov;47(5):508-16.

The root of the universal tree of life inferred from anciently duplicated genes encoding components of the protein-targeting machinery.

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Istituto Pasteur Fondazione Cenci-Bolognetti, Universita' di Roma "La Sapienza," Dipartimento di Biotecnologie Cellulari ed Ematologia, Sezione di Genetica Molecolare, Policlinico Umberto I, Viale Regina Elena 324, 00161, Roma, Italy.


The key protein of the signal recognition particle (termed SRP54 for Eucarya and Ffh for Bacteria) and the protein (termed SRalpha for Eucarya and Ftsy for bacteria) involved in the recognition and binding of the ribosome SRP nascent polypeptide complex are the products of an ancient gene duplication that appears to predate the divergence of all extant taxa. The paralogy of the genes encoding the two proteins (both of which are GTP triphosphatases) is argued by obvious sequence similarities between the N-terminal half of SRP54(Ffh) and the C-terminal half of SRalpha(Ftsy). This enables a universal phylogeny based on either protein to be rooted using the second protein as an outgroup. Phylogenetic trees inferred by various methods from an alignment (220 amino acid positions) of the shared SRP54(Ffh) and SRalpha(Ftsy) regions generate two reciprocally rooted universal trees corresponding to the two genes. The root of both trees is firmly positioned between Bacteria and Archaea/Eucarya, thus providing strong support for the notion (Iwabe et al. 1989; Gogarten et al. 1989) that the first bifurcation in the tree of life separated the lineage leading to Bacteria from a common ancestor to Archaea and Eucarya. None of the gene trees inferred from the two paralogues support a paraphyletic Archaea with the crenarchaeota as a sister group to Eucarya.

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