Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 78, Issue 3–4, pp 234–242 | Cite as

From Promiscuity to the Lipid Divide: On the Evolution of Distinct Membranes in Archaea and Bacteria

  • Yosuke Koga
Original Article


The structural and biosynthetic features of archaeal phospholipids provide clues to the membrane lipid composition in the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) membranes. The evident similarity of the phospholipid biosynthetic pathways in Archaea and Bacteria suggests that one set of these biosynthetic enzymes would have worked on a wide range of lipids composed of enantiomeric glycerophosphate backbones linked with a variety of hydrocarbon chains. This notion was supported by the discovery of a wide range reactivity of enzymes belonging to the CDP-alcohol phosphatidyltransferase family. It is hypothesized that lipid promiscuity is generated from the prebiotic surface metabolism on pyrite proposed by Wächtershäuser. The significance of the phosphate groups on the intermediates of phospholipid biosynthesis and the extra anionic groups of a polar head group suggested the likely involvement of surface metabolism. Anionic groups are essential for surface metabolism. Since the early chemical evolution reactions are presumed to be non-specific, every combination of the available lipid component parts would be expected to be formed. The mixed lipid membranes present in LUCA were segregated and this led to the differentiation of Archaea and Bacteria, as described previously. The proper arrangement of membrane lipids was generated by the physicochemical drive arising from the promiscuity of the primordial membrane lipids.


Lipid evolution Archaea Biochemical evidence Lipid divide Phospholipid biosynthesis CDP-alcohol phosphatidyltransferase 



The author acknowledges Dr. Hiroyuki Morii at University of Occupational and Environmental Health for his critical reading of the manuscript and discussion, and the author thanks Dr. Masahiro Nakano at Junshin University for his continuing interest and encouragement.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Occupational and Environmental HealthMunakataJapan

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