Did archaeal and bacterial cells arise independently from noncellular precursors? A hypothesis stating that the advent of membrane phospholipid with enantiomeric glycerophosphate backbones caused the separation of the two lines of descent

J Mol Evol. 1998 Jan;46(1):54-63. doi: 10.1007/pl00006283.


One of the most remarkable biochemical differences between the members of two domains Archaea and Bacteria is the stereochemistry of the glycerophosphate backbone of phospholipids, which are exclusively opposite. The enzyme responsible to the formation of Archaea-specific glycerophosphate was found to be NAD(P)-linked sn-glycerol-1-phosphate (G-1-P) dehydrogenase and it was first purified from Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum cells and its gene was cloned. This structure gene named egsA (enantiomeric glycerophosphate synthase) consisted of 1,041 bp and coded the enzyme with 347 amino acid residues. The amino acid sequence deduced from the base sequence of the cloned gene (egsA) did not share any sequence similarity except for NAD-binding region with that of NAD(P)-linked sn-glycerol-3-phosphate (G-3-P) dehydrogenase of Escherichia coli which catalyzes the formation of G-3-P backbone of bacterial phospholipids, while the deduced protein sequence of the enzyme revealed some similarity with bacterial glycerol dehydrogenases. Because G-1-P dehydrogenase and G-3-P dehydrogenase would originate from different ancestor enzymes and it would be almost impossible to interchange stereospecificity of the enzymes, it seems likely that the stereostructure of membrane phospholipids of a cell must be maintained from the time of birth of the first cell. We propose here the hypothesis that Archaea and Bacteria were differentiated by the occurrence of cells enclosed by membranes of phospholipids with G-1-P and G-3-P as a backbone, respectively.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Archaea / physiology*
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Base Sequence
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Glycerolphosphate Dehydrogenase / genetics*
  • Glycerolphosphate Dehydrogenase / isolation & purification
  • Membrane Lipids / physiology
  • Methanobacterium / enzymology*
  • Methanobacterium / genetics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phospholipids / physiology
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Membrane Lipids
  • Phospholipids
  • Glycerolphosphate Dehydrogenase
  • glycerol-1-phosphate dehydrogenase

Associated data

  • GENBANK/D88555