Discovery of deoxyribonuclease II-like proteins in bacteria

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2022 Sep:174:107554. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2022.107554. Epub 2022 Jun 14.


Deoxyribonuclease II (DNase II) is one of the earliest enzymes discovered in the history of biochemistry. Its role in apoptosis and development has been documented with great detail in eukaryotes. Prior in silico analyses showed its complete absence in bacterial genomes, with the exception of single bacterial genus: Burkholderia. It is therefore considered to be a eukaryotic enzyme. Here we show that the presence of DNase II is not limited to Burkholderia, as we find over one hundred DNase II-like sequences spanning 90 bacteria species belonging to 54 different genera and seven phyla. The majority of the significant hits (85%) come from Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria phyla. Sequence analyses reveal that bacterial DNase II-like proteins possess a signature catalytic motif of eukaryotic DNase II. In phylogenetic analyses, we find that bacterial DNase II-like proteins are divided into two distinct clades. Our structural analyses reveal high levels of similarity between experimentally determined crystal structures of recombinant Burkholderia thailandensis DNase II and candidate bacterial DNase II-like proteins. We also biochemically show that Chromobacterium violaceum cell lysate possesses acidic DNase II-like activities. Collectively, our results indicate that DNase II has deeper evolutionary roots than previously thought. We argue that either some prokaryotic lineages have undergone losses of DNase II genes, resulting in rare conservation, or some lineages have acquired DNase II genes from eukaryotes through lateral gene transfer. We also discuss the possible involvement of DNase II as a part of an anti-phage defense system in bacteria.

Keywords: Anti-viral; DNase II; DNase activity; Defense islands; Phylogenetic.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases* / chemistry
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases* / genetics
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases* / metabolism
  • Eukaryota* / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Alignment


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Endodeoxyribonucleases
  • deoxyribonuclease II