, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 180-196

The Evolution of the Ribonucleotide Reductases: Much Ado About Oxygen

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Ribonucleotide reduction is the only known biological means for de novo production of deoxyribonucleotides, the building blocks of DNA. These are produced from ribonucleotides, the building blocks of RNA, and the direction of this reaction has been taken to support the idea that, in evolution, RNA preceded DNA as genetic material. However, an understanding of the evolutionary relationships among the three modern-day classes of ribonucleotide reductase and how the first reductase arose early in evolution is still far off. We propose that the diversification of this class of enzymes is inherently tied to microbial colonization of aerobic and anaerobic niches. The work is of broader interest, as it also sheds light on the process of adaptation to oxygenic environments consequent to the evolution of atmospheric oxygen.