Evolution of transcriptional regulation system through promiscuous coupling of regulatory proteins with operons; suggestion from protein sequence similarities in Escherichia coli

J Theor Biol. 1996 Jan 21;178(2):183-204. doi: 10.1006/jtbi.1996.0016.


As an advanced molecular study of the problems of the evolution of organisms, the transcriptional regulation system is studied by investigating the amino acid sequence similarities between the proteins in the regulation system of Escherichia coli in which the data of sequenced proteins as well as of regulator-regulon relationships are accumulated. The similarities between the proteins are calculated by the FASTA algorithm and their homology is also evaluated in terms of statistical significance with the use of the RDF2 program. This investigation reveals that the similarity between the regulatory protein and the regulated protein is hardly found, but many similarities are found between regulatory proteins and between regulated proteins. These similarity relations are compared with the regulator-regulon relationships ascertained experimentally. From this comparison, it is found that similar regulatory proteins rarely regulate the transcription of similar protein genes. As most of the highly similar proteins are considered to have diverged from a common ancestral protein, this finding strongly suggests the possibility that descendant regulatory proteins have been promiscuously coupled with descendant operons, independently of their ancestral regulator-regulon relationship, and that some of the couplings have been fixed by selection to form the present system of transcriptional regulation. The compatibility of such promiscuous coupling with regulatory organization is illustrated in the carbohydrate transport systems and the succeeding metabolic pathways, whose organization is comprehensive in sending nutritious substances to the central path of glycolysis under different environmental conditions. The benefit of flexibility in regulator-regulon relationships in evolutionary processes is also discussed in connection with the punctuational divergence of species in macroevolution and the cell differentiation in multicellular organisms.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Gene Expression
  • Genes, Regulator*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Operon*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Transcription Factors