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Phylogenomic analysis of lipid biosynthetic genes of Archaea shed light on the ‘lipid divide’
Villanueva, L.; Schouten, S.; Sinninghe Damsté, J.S. (2016). Phylogenomic analysis of lipid biosynthetic genes of Archaea shed light on the ‘lipid divide’. Environ. Microbiol. not yet published. dx.doi.org/10.1111/1462-2920.13361
In: Environmental Microbiology. Blackwell Scientific Publishers: Oxford. ISSN 1462-2912, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Villanueva, L., more
  • Schouten, S., more
  • Sinninghe Damsté, J.S., more

Abstract
    The lipid membrane is one of the most characteristic traits distinguishing the three domains of life. Membrane lipids of Bacteria and Eukarya are composed of fatty acids linked to glycerol-3-phosphate (G3P) via ester bonds, while those of Archaea possess isoprene-based alkyl chains linked by ether linkages to glycerol-1-phosphate (G1P), resulting in the opposite stereochemistry of the glycerol phosphate backbone. This ‘lipid divide' has raised questions on the evolution of microbial life since eukaryotes are thought to have evolved from the Archaea, requiring a radical change in membrane composition. Here, we searched for homologs of enzymes involved in membrane lipid and fatty acid synthesis in a wide variety of archaeal genomes and performed phylogenomic analyses. We found that two uncultured archaeal groups, i.e. marine euryarchaeota group II/III and ‘Lokiarchaeota', recently discovered descendants of the archaeal ancestor leading to eukaryotes, lack the gene to synthesize G1P and, consequently, the capacity to synthesize archaeal membrane lipids. However, our analyses reveal their genetic capacity to synthesize G3P-based ‘chimeric lipids' with either two ether-bound isoprenoidal chains or with an ester-bound fatty acid instead of an ether-bound isoprenoid. These archaea may reflect the ‘archaea-to-eukaryote' membrane transition stage which have led to the current ‘lipid divide'.

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