Phylogenetic distributions and histories of proteins involved in anaerobic pyruvate metabolism in eukaryotes

Mol Biol Evol. 2010 Feb;27(2):311-24. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msp237. Epub 2009 Oct 5.


Protists that live in low oxygen conditions often oxidize pyruvate to acetate via anaerobic ATP-generating pathways. Key enzymes that commonly occur in these pathways are pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase (PFO) and [FeFe]-hydrogenase (H(2)ase) as well as the associated [FeFe]-H(2)ase maturase proteins HydE, HydF, and HydG. Determining the origins of these proteins in eukaryotes is of key importance to understanding the origins of anaerobic energy metabolism in microbial eukaryotes. We conducted a comprehensive search for genes encoding these proteins in available whole genomes and expressed sequence tag data from diverse eukaryotes. Our analyses of the presence/absence of eukaryotic PFO, [FeFe]-H(2)ase, and H(2)ase maturase sequences across eukaryotic diversity reveal orthologs of these proteins encoded in the genomes of a variety of protists previously not known to contain them. Our phylogenetic analyses revealed: 1) extensive lateral gene transfers of both PFO and [FeFe]-H(2)ase in eubacteria, 2) decreased support for the monophyly of eukaryote PFO domains, and 3) that eukaryotic [FeFe]-H(2)ases are not monophyletic. Although there are few eukaryote [FeFe]-H(2)ase maturase orthologs characterized, phylogenies of these proteins do recover eukaryote monophyly, although a consistent eubacterial sister group for eukaryotic homologs could not be determined. An exhaustive search for these five genes in diverse genomes from two representative eubacterial groups, the Clostridiales and the alpha-proteobacteria, shows that although these enzymes are nearly universally present within the former group, they are very rare in the latter. No alpha-proteobacterial genome sequenced to date encodes all five proteins. Molecular phylogenies and the extremely restricted distribution of PFO, [FeFe]-H(2)ases, and their associated maturases within the alpha-proteobacteria do not support a mitochondrial origin for these enzymes in eukaryotes. However, the unexpected prevalence of PFO, pyruvate:NADP oxidoreductase, [FeFe]-H(2)ase, and the maturase proteins encoded in genomes of diverse eukaryotes indicates that these enzymes have an important role in the evolution of microbial eukaryote energy metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anaerobiosis
  • Eukaryota / enzymology*
  • Eukaryota / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Hydrogenase / classification*
  • Hydrogenase / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Pyruvate Synthase / classification*
  • Pyruvate Synthase / genetics
  • Pyruvic Acid / metabolism*


  • Pyruvic Acid
  • Hydrogenase
  • Pyruvate Synthase