Background Ribonucleotide reduction is the only de novo pathway for synthesis ofdeoxyribonucleotides, the building blocks of DNA. The reaction is catalysed byribonucleotide reductases (RNRs), an ancient enzyme family comprised of threeclasses. Each class has distinct operational constraints, and are broadly distributedacross organisms from all three domains, though few class I RNRs have beenidentified in archaeal genomes, and classes II and III likewise appear rare acrosseukaryotes. In this study, we examine whether this distribution is best explained bypresence of all three classes in the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA), or byhorizontal gene transfer (HGT) of RNR genes. We also examine to what extentenvironmental factors may have impacted the distribution of RNR classes.
Results Our phylogenies show that the Last Eukaryotic Common Ancestor (LECA) possesseda class I RNR, but that the eukaryotic class I enzymes are not directly descended fromclass I RNRs in archaea. Instead, our results indicate that archaeal class I RNR geneshave been independently transferred from bacteria on two occasions. While LECApossessed a class I RNR, our trees indicate that this is ultimately bacterial in origin.We also find convincing evidence that eukaryotic class I RNR has been transferred tothe bacteroidetes, providing a stunning example of HGT from eukaryotes back tobacteria. Based on our phylogenies and available genetic and genomic evidence, classII and III RNRs in eukaryotes also appear to have been transferred from bacteria, with subsequent within-domain transfer between distantly-related eukaryotes. Under the three-domains hypothesis the RNR present in the last common ancestor of archaeaand eukaryotes appears, through a process of elimination, to have been a dimeric classII RNR, though limited sampling of eukaryotes precludes a firm conclusion as the data may be equally well accounted for by HGT.
Conclusions Horizontal gene transfer has clearly played an important role in the evolution of theRNR repertoire of organisms from all three domains of life. Our results clearly showthat class I RNRs have spread to archaea and eukaryotes via transfers from thebacterial domain, indicating that class I likely evolved in the bacteria. We find noclear evolutionary trace placing either class II or III RNRs in the LUCA, despite thefact that ribonucleotide reduction is an essential cellular reaction and was pivotal tothe transition from RNA to DNA genomes. Instead, a general pattern emerges whereenvironmental and enzyme operational constraints, especially the presence or absenceof oxygen, coupled with horizontal transmission are major determinants of the RNR repertoire of genomes.
2010. Vol. 10, no 383