Evolution of elongation factor G and the origins of mitochondrial and chloroplast forms

Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Mar;28(3):1281-92. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msq316. Epub 2010 Nov 22.


Protein synthesis elongation factor G (EF-G) is an essential protein with central roles in both the elongation and ribosome recycling phases of protein synthesis. Although EF-G evolution is predicted to be conservative, recent reports suggest otherwise. We have characterized EF-G in terms of its molecular phylogeny, genomic context, and patterns of amino acid substitution. We find that most bacteria carry a single "canonical" EF-G, which is phylogenetically conservative and encoded in an str operon. However, we also find a number of EF-G paralogs. These include a pair of EF-Gs that are mostly found together and in an eclectic subset of bacteria, specifically δ-proteobacteria, spirochaetes, and planctomycetes (the "spd" bacteria). These spdEFGs have also given rise to the mitochondrial factors mtEFG1 and mtEFG2, which probably arrived in eukaryotes before the eukaryotic last common ancestor. Meanwhile, chloroplasts apparently use an α-proteobacterial-derived EF-G rather than the expected cyanobacterial form. The long-term comaintenance of the spd/mtEFGs may be related to their subfunctionalization for translocation and ribosome recycling. Consistent with this, patterns of sequence conservation and site-specific evolutionary rate shifts suggest that the faster evolving spd/mtEFG2 has lost translocation function, but surprisingly, the protein also shows little conservation of sites related to recycling activity. On the other hand, spd/mtEFG1, although more slowly evolving, shows signs of substantial remodeling. This is particularly extensive in the GTPase domain, including a highly conserved three amino acid insertion in switch I. We suggest that subfunctionalization of the spd/mtEFGs is not a simple case of specialization for subsets of original activities. Rather, the duplication allows the release of one paralog from the selective constraints imposed by dual functionality, thus allowing it to become more highly specialized. Thus, the potential for fine tuning afforded by subfunctionalization may explain the maintenance of EF-G paralogs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Chloroplasts / genetics
  • Chloroplasts / metabolism
  • Conserved Sequence / genetics
  • Deltaproteobacteria / genetics
  • Deltaproteobacteria / metabolism
  • Eukaryota / genetics
  • Eukaryota / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptide Elongation Factor G / genetics*
  • Peptide Elongation Factor G / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Ribosomal Proteins / genetics*
  • Ribosomal Proteins / metabolism
  • Ribosomes / genetics
  • Ribosomes / metabolism
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Spirochaetales / genetics
  • Spirochaetales / metabolism


  • Peptide Elongation Factor G
  • Ribosomal Proteins