Functional significance may underlie the taxonomic utility of single amino acid substitutions in conserved proteins

Kevin M. Tyler, Gerd K. Wagner, Qiong Wu, Katharina T. Huber

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We hypothesized that some amino acid substitutions in conserved proteins that are strongly fixed by critical functional roles would show lineage-specific distributions. As an example of an archetypal conserved eukaryotic protein we considered the active site of ß-tubulin. Our analysis identified one amino acid substitution—ß-tubulin F224—which was highly lineage specific. Investigation of ß-tubulin for other phylogenetically restricted amino acids identified several with apparent specificity for well-defined phylogenetic groups. Intriguingly, none showed specificity for “supergroups” other than the unikonts. To understand why, we analysed the ß-tubulin Neighbor-Net and demonstrated a fundamental division between core ß-tubulins (plant-like) and divergent ß-tubulins (animal and fungal). F224 was almost completely restricted to the core ß-tubulins, while divergent ß-tubulins possessed Y224. Thus, our specific example offers insight into the restrictions associated with the co-evolution of ß-tubulin during the radiation of eukaryotes, underlining a fundamental dichotomy between F-type, core ß-tubulins and Y-type, divergent ß-tubulins. More broadly our study provides proof of principle for the taxonomic utility of critical amino acids in the active sites of conserved proteins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-402
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Molecular Evolution
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010

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