Metabolites: a helping hand for pathway evolution?

Trends Biochem Sci. 2003 Jun;28(6):336-41. doi: 10.1016/S0968-0004(03)00114-2.


The evolution of enzymes and pathways is under debate. Recent studies show that recruitment of single enzymes from different pathways could be the driving force for pathway evolution. Other mechanisms of evolution, such as pathway duplication, enzyme specialization, de novo invention of pathways or retro-evolution of pathways, appear to be less abundant. Twenty percent of enzyme superfamilies are quite variable, not only in changing reaction chemistry or metabolite type but in changing both at the same time. These variable superfamilies account for nearly half of all known reactions. The most frequently occurring metabolites provide a helping hand for such changes because they can be accommodated by many enzyme superfamilies. Thus, a picture is emerging in which new pathways are evolving from central metabolites by preference, thereby keeping the overall topology of the metabolic network.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catalysis
  • Enzymes / physiology*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction


  • Enzymes