Evolution of glutamate dehydrogenase genes: evidence for two paralogous protein families and unusual branching patterns of the archaebacteria in the universal tree of life

J Mol Evol. 1993 Apr;36(4):335-46. doi: 10.1007/BF00182181.


The existence of two families of genes coding for hexameric glutamate dehydrogenases has been deduced from the alignment of 21 primary sequences and the determination of the percentages of similarity between each pair of proteins. Each family could also be characterized by specific motifs. One family (Family I) was composed of gdh genes from six eubacteria and six lower eukaryotes (the primitive protozoan Giardia lamblia, the green alga Chlorella sorokiniana, and several fungi and yeasts). The other one (Family II) was composed of gdh genes from two eubacteria, two archaebacteria, and five higher eukaryotes (vertebrates). Reconstruction of phylogenetic trees using several parsimony and distance methods confirmed the existence of these two families. Therefore, these results reinforced our previously proposed hypothesis that two close but already different gdh genes were present in the last common ancestor to the three Ur-kingdoms (eubacteria, archaebacteria, and eukaryotes). The branching order of the different species of Family I was found to be the same whatever the method of tree reconstruction although it varied slightly according the region analyzed. Similarly, the topological positions of eubacteria and eukaryotes of Family II were independent of the method used. However, the branching of the two archaebacteria in Family II appeared to be unexpected: (1) the thermoacidophilic Sulfolobus solfataricus was found clustered with the two eubacteria of this family both in parsimony and distance trees, a situation not predicted by either one of the contradictory trees recently proposed; and (2) the branching of the halophilic Halobacterium salinarium varied according to the method of tree construction: it was closer to the eubacteria in the maximum parsimony tree and to eukaryotes in distance trees. Therefore, whatever the actual position of the halophilic species, archaebacteria did not appear to be monophyletic in these gdh gene trees. This result questions the firmness of the presently accepted interpretation of previous protein trees which were supposed to root unambiguously the universal tree of life and place the archaebacteria in this tree.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Archaea / genetics*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Consensus Sequence
  • Genes
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Glutamate Dehydrogenase / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Species Specificity
  • Vertebrates / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Glutamate Dehydrogenase