Evolution of proton pumping ATPases: Rooting the tree of life

Abstract

Proton pumping ATPases are found in all groups of present day organisms. The F-ATPases of eubacteria, mitochondria and chloroplasts also function as ATP synthases, i.e., they catalyze the final step that transforms the energy available from reduction/oxidation reactions (e.g., in photosynthesis) into ATP, the usual energy currency of modern cells. The primary structure of these ATPases/ATP synthases was found to be much more conserved between different groups of bacteria than other parts of the photosynthetic machinery, e.g., reaction center proteins and redox carrier complexes.

These F-ATPases and the vacuolar type ATPase, which is found on many of the endomembranes of eukaryotic cells, were shown to be homologous to each other; i.e., these two groups of ATPases evolved from the same enzyme present in the common ancestor. (The term eubacteria is used here to denote the phylogenetic group containing all bacteria except the archaebacteria.) Sequences obtained for the plasmamembrane ATPase of various archaebacteria revealed that this ATPase is much more similar to the eukaryotic than to the eubacterial counterpart. The eukaryotic cell of higher organisms evolved from a symbiosis between eubacteria (that evolved into mitochondria and chloroplasts) and a host organism. Using the vacuolar type ATPase as a molecular marker for the cytoplasmic component of the eukaryotic cell reveals that this host organism was a close relative of the archaebacteria.

A unique feature of the evolution of the ATPases is the presence of a non-catalytic subunit that is paralogous to the catalytic subunit, i.e., the two types of subunits evolved from a common ancestral gene. Since the gene duplication that gave rise to these two types of subunits had already occurred in the last common ancestor of all living organisms, this non-catalytic subunit can be used to root the tree of life by means of an outgroup; that is, the location of the last common ancestor of the major domains of living organisms (archaebacteria, eubacteria and eukaryotes) can be located in the tree of life without assuming constant or equal rates of change in the different branches.

A correlation between structure and function of ATPases has been established for present day organisms. Implications resulting from this correlation for biochemical pathways, especially photosynthesis, that were operative in the last common ancestor and preceding life forms are discussed.

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Gogarten, J.P., Taiz, L. Evolution of proton pumping ATPases: Rooting the tree of life. Photosynth Res 33, 137–146 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00039176

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Key words

  • ATPase
  • progenote
  • origin of life
  • archaebacteria
  • membrane transport